Literary City Guide | Atlanta, Georgia
Tour Guide: Acree Macam
Since graduating from Emory University’s creative writing program in 2008, Acree has enjoyed a career in copywriting, contributing to campaigns for Turner Broadcasting and Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse as well as start-ups and small design shops. But her real life is with her husband in historic midtown, where they spend way too much money eating with friends at Atlanta’s great restaurants and keeping their home bar well stocked—because you never know who might stop by. (Photos by Acree Macam and Eric Macam; Bio Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee)
Relationship to Atlanta: I moved here in 2004 for college and have been here ever since, with the exception of one year. Atlanta is a city of unique neighborhoods, and I’ve been lucky to live in six of them: Druid Hills, North Decatur, Inman Park, Grant Park, Reynoldstown and Midtown.
Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Donna Tartt
Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Whitney Otawka
Writing soundtrack: White noise: the fan, clock, the sounds of the cars and MARTA trains grumbling past outside
Pen or Pencil: Pen, extra-fine point, black
Coffee or Tea: Coffee, also black
Paperback or Hardback: Hardback if I can afford it, although paperbacks are great for shoving into my purse.
Little Shop of Stories. Decatur (Atlanta’s safer, quieter, beer- and book-loving little sister) is home to this magical children’s bookstore. Beyond its wonderfully curated collection of titles, the Little Shop is a big supporter of the Decatur Book Festival and other literary happenings.
Book Nook. Located in a strip mall near Emory, this used bookstore is the perfect place to get lost on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I even know of a love story that began here.
A Cappella Books. Located in the wild and weird Little Five Points, A Cappella is known for its politically charged, progressive and counter-culture books, including a large selection of Beat literature. It also hosts readings from time to time.
Robert W. Woodruff Library. Emory’s main library is a ten-story playground of reading spaces and books, constantly buzzing with undergrad energy. I love getting lost in the stacks, finding sanctuary in the Matheson Reading Room—with marble floors and a strict no-talking policy, it is almost literally as silent as a tomb—and exploring the special collections on the tenth floor, where a wraparound balcony gives a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area.
Central Library. The headquarters for Atlanta’s library system, this building was opened by its first African-American director and designed by a Bauhaus architect. The fifth floor houses a genealogy collection as well as an exhibit on Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell.
Decatur Library. Beyond its claim to fame as the preferred parking lot for Decatur bar-hoppers, this downtown library plays host to frequent readings and an excellent used book sale.
READINGS & CONFERENCES
Decatur Book Festival. The largest independent book festival in the country takes over downtown Decatur every Labor Day Weekend. Streets are blocked off as thousands arrive for readings, signings, discussions, live music, parades and workshops.
Georgia Center for the Book. They host weekly readings from authors both local and notable.
Write Club. Not your typical reading series, Write Club occurs monthly at a local independent theater and pits writers against one another in a storytelling faceoff that is about as polite as a wrestling match. Drinking and heckling encouraged.
Emory’s Creative Writing Series. Catch readings from notable staff like Salman Rushdie and poet laureate Natasha Tretheway, plus visiting authors, which in the past have included Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver and Alice Walker.
Margaret Mitchell House. Located right on Peachtree Street near the High Museum of Art, the historic home of the Gone With the Wind author offers daily tours.
The Wren’s Nest. The Victorian West End home of Br’er Rabbit author Joel Chandler Harris is now a venue for storytelling performances and offers tours Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Oakland Cemetery. A cemetery may seem like a strange place to kill time, but Oakland is an active public park, alive with history. Take a guided tour through the beautiful gardens and visit the final resting place of notable resident Margaret Mitchell.
Andalusia. About an hour and a half southeast of Atlanta lies the farm where sublime short-story author Flannery O’Connor wrote and lived until her death at age 39. It is open for self-guided tours and maintains a peafowl aviary, in honor of O’Connor’s favorite pastime.
Octane Grant Park. This is by far my favorite place in the city to grab a cup of coffee, due to its perfect pours and sunny indoor seating.
The Bakery at Cakes & Ale. Serving up Counter Culture coffee (one of the best roasters in the country), Cakes & Ale is a delicious and happy place to grab Saturday breakfast and skip the brunch lines.
Dancing Goats. Located in the recently restored Ponce City Market (an enormous old department store that sits square in the center of town), Dancing Goats is a great place to bring kids or to explore on your own.
A PROPER MEAL
Empire State South. Top Chef judge and two-time James Beard award-winner Hugh Acheson hails from Canada but makes an excellent Southerner. He even gained some press a while back for telling off Paula Deen when it came to the real heritage of Southern cooking: farm-fresh okra, Vidalia onions and even kimchi, he says—but not butter. Try his surprising takes on Southern staples at this divine Midtown eatery. (Must-order: The pimiento cheese and bacon jam jar.) If you don’t have dinner in the budget, stop by for Sunday brunch or evening cocktails and bocce ball.
The Optimist. Restaurant tycoon Ford Fry’s gorgeous new seafood spot appeared in nearly every reputable best-of list last year, from Bon Appétit’s to Garden & Gun’s. If you didn’t think to make reservations eight weeks in advance, snag a seat at the oyster bar, created by interior designer Smith Hanes to feel like a Savannah beach house. Don’t eat seafood anywhere else in Atlanta. Do eat it here.
Star Provisions. Anne Quatrano’s lunch spot is so much more than that; it’s also an ice creamery, coffee bar, cheesemonger, butcher shop, bakery and home good supplier. It’s a relic from the old world in the middle of Atlanta’s burgeoning new shopping, design and restaurant district called the Westside. Order a sandwich at the counter and browse the shop before taking a seat at one of the large picnic tables.
Victory Sandwich Bar. Located in downtown Decatur, Victory is the best spot around for cheap eats and great cocktails. Order a couple of sandwiches (they’re half-sized at $4 each) and, if it’s warm, sit outside in the garden.
Buford Highway. Buford Highway is not a restaurant but a road, running from just north of Midtown into the suburbs, and overflowing with restaurants and markets from Atlanta’s diverse immigrant population. Signs for Mexican, Cuban, Vietnamese, Indian, Ethiopian and Chinese food crop up side by side. I recommend getting on the highway and letting your appetite lead the way.
Jeni’s Ice Cream. A new addition to Atlanta, Jeni’s dynamite craft ice cream originated in Ohio before traveling to Nashville and now gracing us with its presence on Atlanta’s Westside.
Alon’s Bakery & Market. A European-style market, Alon’s offers everything from prepared gourmet dinner dishes to breakfast pastries, mini cakes and coffee. Visit the North Highland location and enjoy people-watching from a sidewalk table as you break into your crème brûlée.
Little Tart Bakeshop. Located inside Octane Grant Park, Little Tart gives complex flavor to simple pastries by using top-quality local, seasonal ingredients. I recommend the savory bread pudding or ham and cheese puff for maximum mouth explosion.
Acree's 5 Favorites
1. Favorite view: The skyline from the Jackson St. bridge
2. Favorite place to write: At home, on the couch, under blankets
3. Favorite museum: The Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA). It’s small but packs a big punch.
4. Favorite coffee shop: Octane Grant Park
5. Favorite thing about Atlanta: It’s an underdog city. Our symbol is the Phoenix, depicting Atlanta as rising from the ashes after Sherman’s troops burned it down during the Civil War. Today, the city is still being rebuilt and redefined, and to live here is to get your hands dirty and help lay the bricks. We have the same ghosts as any Southern city—dysfunctional public transportation, for example, due to historic racism in the wealthy parts of town—and maybe we have the biggest ghosts because we are the biggest Southern city. If you love Atlanta, you embrace the ambivalence, by celebrating the great things it has to offer but also actively hoping for change.