If you can’t live somewhere that isn’t a big, bustling city and you don’t want to pay New York City or California rent, you can’t beat the Windy City, which boasts great bookstores like Myopic in Wicker Park, Powell’s in Hyde Park, and the best place to get your weird zine/chapbook/comic fix: Quimby’s. There’s plenty of art and architecture to admire, wonderful coffee from local roasters like Metropolis, nice-sized and somewhat affordable places to live, plenty of great bars, schools like the University of Chicago, writers and poets like Adam Levin and Lindsay Hunter calling the place home, the Printers Row Lit Fest … All of which is to say, Chicago plays second literary city to nobody.
Far be it for us to name the ultimate Southern city, but have you been to Charleston? It’s insanely beautiful, laid back, and features great places like Heirloom Book Co. for all your vintage cookbook needs and Blue Bicycle Books.
The secret about this Texas capitol has been out for years, but it holds special appeal for writers, who can go to the Harry Ransom Center to catch a glimpse of UT-Austin’s enormous collection of manuscripts and letters and take their pick of any of the great coffee shops the city has to offer. The rent isn’t bad, you’ve got plenty of Texas space to walk or drive around as you dream up big ideas, and BookPeople is sort of like an indie-bookstore Mecca.
Maybe the coziest town in the Pacific Northwest. In Bellingham, you’re under two hours from Seattle and its ample supply of amazing coffee shops. It rains enough to keep you indoors and working on whatever you’re writing. And best of all, there’s Village Books.
If you’re looking to get away from the typical big cities and want to go south of the Mason-Dixon Line, but also want to find a place with a culture all its own, Asheville can’t be beat. Malaprop’s is a great bookstore, and you can also pop into Battery Park Book Exchange to drink an espresso or a glass of wine as you peruse the store’s many books on the region’s history.
If you’re interested in writing about politics, you obviously can’t lose living near the Beltway, but the nation’s capital really has a lot to offer writers of every kind with its beautiful neighborhoods to walk through, diverse population, plenty of colleges (which mean an endless supply of libraries and guest authors), and one of the best bookstores in the country, Politics and Prose.
Saint Paul, MN
If you can deal with the winters, Minnesota is the wonderland F. Scott Fitzgerald came out of, where John Berryman taught poetry, and a place where the citizens seem like genuinely happy people. We picked Saint Paul over its twin city, Minneapolis, only because it’s a bit smaller and has a handful of great bookshops.
There’s enough caffeine flowing through this place to kick your creativity into overdrive so you can finish that novel. Seattle is a cosmopolitan city where you can actually get stuff done.
Great Barrington, MA
You want quaint? Move to Great Barrington. It’s got a few nice bars where you can sit and read a book while sipping a bourbon, there’s plenty of gorgeous New England countryside around for you to explore if you get stuck in a rut, and Yellow House Books is a gem of a used book shop.
New Orleans, LA
New Orleans is a goldmine for genre fiction writers from mystery to crime, and especially those whose interests run to the supernatural (Anne Rice, anybody?). The rent isn’t crazy, the people are interesting, and there’s no shortage of fun places to drink.
Sure, Miami might seem like a dark horse on this list, with all its tanned, toned, outdoor types, but here’s the thing: Miami is warm all year, has lots of places you can rent for less than you’d pay for a closet in New York, and where else in America will give you a greater mix of people to draw inspiration from than the state of Florida? Throw in the fact that Books & Books — a fantastic locally owned mini-chain — is all over the region, and the Miami Book Fair gets the entire publishing world to visit once a year, and it’s easy to see why the city earned our shout out.
If you want to live on the East Coast, but want to get away from the really big cities, Portland should really be on your radar. Think about it: you’re close to L.L. Bean headquarters and the excellent non-profit storytelling school Salt Institute.
Ann Arbor, MI
If you have to pick a college town in the Midwest to base your career as a writer out of, Ann Arbor is a friendly choice — not to mention a smart one, considering it’s also home to the University of Michigan’s world-class creative writing program. And with places like Literati Bookstore opening up, you know the city can only get better.
Another of those enchanting Southern towns you hear so much about, Savannah is home to the wonderful Book Lady Bookstore.
Another choice that might not be so obvious, the Steel City has a bunch of great indie bookstores, and it’s the place where Michael Chabon went to school. You aren’t that far from New York if you have to meet with your agent or publisher, but you aren’t too close for comfort, either.
WORD Jersey City staff
Jersey City, NJ
If you can’t stomach the thought of being more than an hour away from New York, why not head to Jersey City? It’s probably where most of the writers in Brooklyn will be living in less than a decade anyway. The first wave may well be lured by the news that one of the borough’s finest bookstores, WORD, has opened up shop here.
It seems just a little bit hypocritical to tell you to leave Brooklyn and San Francisco while encouraging you to move to Portland, but the thing is that this IFC-famous city gives you the best of those worlds, with the added benefits of affordability and a nicer way of life. Bonus: the Heathman Hotel, which has a massive library that it’s really proud of, making it the most literary hotel in America.
Iowa City, IA
Any town that has both the Writers’ Workshop and the Mission Creek Festival is pretty friendly to bookish types, in our very humble opinion.
Mark our words: all of the up-and-coming East Coast writers who are toiling away in big, smelly cities would kill to hang out at a place like RiverRun Bookstore. If only they knew it existed.
Cambridge is the brilliant-people capitol of the United States, with Harvard and MIT in its city limits; lots of quiet bars on its outskirts to sit around and read in while watching the townies walk by; Boston is a hop, skip, and jump away; and plenty of places to buy new and used books.