Literary City Guide | INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA
Tour Guide: SUSAN HOSKINS MILLER
Susan comes from a long line of avid readers who always shared books and encouraged her to read. The love of books coupled with her career as a journalist and writer eventually led her to work in a university library where she’s surrounded by even more books every day.
Relationship to Indianapolis: I moved to Indianapolis after spending several years in two other states. But, because I grew up in rural Indiana, I had visited Indianapolis many times and already knew of its captivating appeal and time-honored traditions.
Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: Anna Quindlen
Chef you’d like to prepare the meal: Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa
Writing soundtrack: Peaceful silence
Pen or Pencil: Pen
Coffee or Tea? Coffee
Paperback or Hardback? Paperback. I used to prefer hardbacks, but as I age and hand muscles weaken, paperbacks are much easier to hold.
Indy Reads Books. This not-for-profit bookstore sells only books it receives through donations. Most of the store’s booksellers are volunteers. All proceeds are used to fund literacy programs to teach adults to read, which are also staffed with volunteer tutors. The shop makes it a point to feature the works of local authors and host readings and book signings to promote their work and raise funds for its mission at the same time.
Bookmamas. Located on the east side in historic Irvington, Bookmamas sells both used and new books, and showcases books by Indiana authors and poets, often hosting readings.
Black Dog Books. This Zionsville bookstore specializes in used and rare books in all genres, but also carries new releases and books by local authors and poets, frequently hosting readings and book signings. The black Labrador, Sophie, is often on hand to greet guests with kisses in exchange for ear scratches and tummy rubs.
Kid’s Ink. Kid’s Ink is a charming children’s book store that has been in the Butler Tarkington neighborhood for more than 25 years. It has a varied selection of books, games and educational toys, and hosts authors, events and story times.
Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. This library is a showcase and museum for the life and times of Indianapolis’ favorite author, the late Kurt Vonnegut. It houses some of his personal belongings, such as his typewriter, original drawings he made, books, and even one of his packs of Pall Mall cigarettes. The library hosts community programs and works with local school English departments on how to teach Vonnegut to their students.
Indianapolis Marion County Public Library. Our library system has an elegant main central library downtown and 22 branch locations throughout the city. All the branches host a plethora of programs to serve their constituencies.
Little Free Libraries. Located in art installations throughout the city and along the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, Little Free Libraries promote literacy and provide free books for those who might not have access otherwise.
Indiana State Library. This library supports the state’s network of public libraries, and contains every newspaper ever published in the state on microfilm, print or digital formats. The library also has the state’s largest collection of state and federal documents, Indiana history and genealogy. Its collection also includes Braille, large print and audio books to serve the visually impaired. Suburban public libraries in each of the counties that surround Indianapolis have strong library systems of their own. All offer a wide variety of public programs and readings.
Krannert Memorial Library. Located on the campus of the University of Indianapolis, this library welcomes visits from the public. Visitors can use the free wi-fi, borrow books through the library’s community borrower program, and buy a cup of Starbucks coffee at the library’s cafe. Other universities in the city also have welcoming libraries including Butler University, IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis) and Marian University.
READINGS & CONFERENCES
The Allen and Helen Kellogg Writers Series. Hosted at the University of Indianapolis, this reading series brings distinguished, prominent writers and poets to the campus for readings that are free and open to the public. The writers also lead classroom discussions while they are on campus.
Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series. Butler University hosts prominent contemporary authors for readings and Q&A sessions that are free and open to the public, and also engage students in classroom discussions.
Poetry on Brick Street. Located in Zionsville, Poetry on Brick Street hosts a monthly poetry reading featuring accomplished poets from all over the country. The not-for-profit also hosts a weekly poetry reading downtown in the Indianapolis Arts Garden during National Poetry Month as well as other special programs and literary events.
An Evening with the Muse. This monthly poetry series hosted by the Indiana Writers Center, features prominent poets who read their work followed by an open mic for local poets.
Public Library Foundation. An annual Indiana authors fair is hosted by the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation complete with awards.
Local Bookstores and Libraries. Most local bookstores and libraries host author readings throughout the year.
Calvin Fletcher Coffee Company. This not-for-profit coffee shop donates all its profits to local charities. Visitors enjoy its excellent coffees and pastries, as well as the handmade art and jewelry for sale in the shop.
Monon Coffee Company. With Broad Ripple and Fall Creek locations, Monon Coffee Company is popular for its music, art, baked treats and, of course, a great cup of coffee.
Cornerstone Coffee House. Cornerstone is part of Moe and Johnny’s, a favorite restaurant, bar and coffee house all in one in South Broad Ripple. The coffee house begins the day serving coffees and pastries, and as the clock edges toward noon, evolves into a favorite lunch spot.
Hubbard and Cravens Coffee Company. You’ll not only find excellent coffee across four locations but it also sells coffees wholesale to hotels and fine restaurants. Company representatives travel to coffee-growing countries and hand select the best coffees, then roast them in their Indianapolis facilities.
A PROPER MEAL
Bluebeard. Named for Kurt Vonnegut’s book of the same title, the gourmet menu changes daily based on seasonal, organic ingredients, most of which are sourced locally. Fresh breads are baked daily by Bluebeard’s own Amelia’s Bakery, which also supplies hearth-baked breads to several other local restaurants and markets.
Woody’s Library Restaurant. A former Andrew Carnegie Library in Carmel has been transformed into a restaurant with a pub in the basement. The exterior looks almost exactly like it did when it was still a library. Inside, much of the original oak woodwork remains and books fill the shelves that line the walls. Guests are encouraged to browse. Diners are each handed a book from a special pile that has a menu inserted inside.
Penn and Palate. At the corner of Pennsylvania and 16th Street, this restaurant honors local writers and artists in their décor with large portraits of them lining the walls. Chef Bill Julian calls his cuisine “contemporary comfort food.” The Roasted Grape Panzanella salad is a perfect example of a traditional dish with unexpected ingredients that add an extra zing of flavor.
Chocolate Café. This branch of the South Bend Chocolate Company, is right on Monument Circle in the heart of downtown. If you need a chocolate fix, this is the place to go. Right next door is the café’s sister, Indy Swirl, offering frozen yogurt treats.
Illinois Street Food Emporium. A bakery of the finest pastries, as well as a cafe that makes, serves and caters fabulous breakfasts, brunches and lunches. While all the “real” food is fantastic, it’s the pastries that are melt-in-your-mouth extraordinary. All this and the coffee is great, too.
Graeter’s Ice Cream. Graeter’s has opened shops in several locations around the city as Hoosiers find out after one taste that the Cincinnati-made ice cream is the best they ever tasted.
As soon as visitors arrive by plane in Indianapolis, they are greeted by glass installations in the airport etched with poetry written by Indiana poets. This is just the beginning of this city’s surprising literary legacy.
Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Indy’s latest point of pride is the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, eight miles of landscaped trail throughout downtown connecting six cultural districts and the city’s 40-mile greenway trail system. Bicyclists and pedestrians exercise their bodies while they engage their senses with public art, gardens, and literary sites. When they need a break, there are restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and even the City Market along the trail where they can stop and refresh themselves. Seven glass bus stop shelters along the trail, designed by architect Donna Sink, are each etched with poetry written by Indiana poets.
The trail features art installations of all kinds, including Little Libraries, which allow people to take books. The Indiana Pacers established a bikeshare program on the trail in 25 different locations so trail users can ride even if they don’t own a bike. A site called Poet’s Place is at one point and features a poem about the city written by Dr. Elizabeth Weber, a poetry professor at the University of Indianapolis.
Kurt Vonnegut Mural. A 38-foot-tall mural of Kurt Vonnegut painted on the side of a building overlooking the Massachusetts Avenue arts district leaves no doubt what the city thinks of its favorite author.
A Fault in Our Stars. Visitors can visit sites featured in both the book and the movie, “A Fault in Our Stars,” by another well-loved Indianapolis author, John Green. One such site is the Funky Bones, a large sculpture resembling a skeleton in the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s 100-acre gardens.
Indiana Writers Center. A plethora of classes, programs, events and readings, sponsored by the Indiana Writers Center, helps both budding and established writers perfect their craft.
James Whitcomb Riley Home. The home of famous 19th century author and Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley, is open to the public in Lockerbie Square on a cobblestone street that is just like it was in his lifetime. Riley’s grave along with that of poet Etheridge Knight, author Meredith Nichols, poet Sarah T. Bolton and poet Ruth Lilly can be visited in Crown Hill Cemetery.
The Illustrious Clients. The Illustrious Clients is a society of devotees of world-famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. The society, formed in 1946, holds regular dinner meetings and, over the years, has published seven books, several pamphlets, and the organization’s newsletter. Anyone interested in Sherlock Holmes can join. Metropolitan Indianapolis is teeming with reading groups and book clubs, some of which are hosted by libraries and bookstores, but others that have been formed independently.
Local Publishers. Several publishers have either satellite offices or headquarters in Indianapolis, including Luminis Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Wiley Publishers, and the Saturday Evening Post magazine.
Indiana Humanities. This organization sponsors a variety of programs, events, and readings throughout the year, and is housed in the former home of the late author Meredith Nicholson, a prominent Indiana author in the early 20th century.
SUSAN'S 5 FAVORITES
1. Favorite view: The city skyline from the canal in front of the Indiana State Museum.
2. Favorite place to write: With pen and paper outside on my patio, or with my laptop at my desk.
3. Favorite museum: Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art
4. Favorite coffee shop: Illinois Street Food Emporium for its exquisite baked pastries, the coffee, which is always good, and for the neighborhood and ambiance of the cafe.
5. Favorite thing about Indianapolis: Beautification efforts of all kinds are ongoing. Beautiful gardens and landscaping are continuously added in new places coupled with public art throughout the city, much of which has to do with books and poetry.