Famous Writers and Motels

Categories Culture

It’s no surprise then that famous writers and motels fit together easily. Motels are a fixture on the real highways and backroads of the USA. In books, they appear as a places of transience, refuge, solitary contemplation, or a place to get up to no good. Famous authors have holed up to write in some of America’s many motels. We have a look at some of their stories here.

Photo copyright Steve Schapiro.


Truman Capote Lived in a Kansas Motel While Writing In Cold Blood

Speaking of famous writers and motels, there’s Capote. He stayed in one while doing research for his 1965 smash-hit novel In Cold Blood. The book went on to get the Hollywood treatment shortly thereafter and again semi-recently, Truman Capote lived in a motel at the edge of Garden City, Kansas. The book was based on a senseless murder in a nearby small town called Holcomb that took place on November 19, 1959. Two ex-convicts invaded a family home, tipped off about a safe full of money that didn’t exist. They ended up murdering the local Clutter family. Arriving in Holcomb a few years after the massacre, Capote, a flamboyant, openly homosexual New Yorker (who was nonetheless born in Monroeville, Alabama) settled in to trace the contours of what happened and why. At first he found the townspeople were alienated by him. His funky outfits and dare-I-say Droopy the Dog-esque vocal inflection were not “normal” for locals. He asked his good-natured childhood friend Harper Lee, writer of To Kill A Mockingbird, to come help. Her down-to-earth good manners helped break the ice. In the end, Capote got the big story, made some enduring small town friends, and left us with a canonical novel. Capote and Lee both stayed at the same motel, by the way. That was the Wheat Lands Motel in Garden City. It’s sadly now closed.


Nabokov in Ithaca, New York.


Vladimir Nabokov, Writer of Lolita, Loved a Backwoods Motel

Vladimir Nabokov is the Russian-born writer of the eternally famous pedophile-professor novel Lolita. He explored the USA better than most “salt of the earth” American literary figures (I’m looking at you Jack Kerouac!). The grim, tacky parts of the country inspired him. Along with his wife Vera, he crisscrossed the country. They stayed in tiny hamlets and explored off-course tourist curiosities on a whim. Fun fact: his stalwart wife did 100% of the driving. She also carried a gun in her handbag, acting as bodyguard while he went out to totter around with a big net looking for butterflies. If you care to retrace the duo’s steps, you could start with the rustic Coral Lodges in Afton, Wyoming (“home of the world’s largest elkhorn arch”)


Famous Writers and Motels, a Bygone Trend?

These days, we are in many ways more mobile than before. Travel has changed. We drive to the airport, get herded through security, and are whisked off on a plane to some other built-up city. We skip the hinterland. People just don’t drive as much anymore. We don’t have the same patience for the in-between humdrum. Are famous writers and motels a thing of the past? Say it ain’t so, but it might just be. 

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