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Literary Tourism in Alabama

Stan Ingold

Say the words “tourist attraction,” and beaches and shops selling t-shirts might come to mind. However, there is a plan in the works to combine Alabama’s rich literary heritage with the visitor industry.            

Organizers are hoping to use books and stories to bring people to often overlooked parts of the state. Moundville Archaeological Park, south of Tuscaloosa is site is known to many in western Alabama, however, operators say it doesn’t draw much of a crowd from out-of-state. A new plan is underway to change that, one page at a time.

Guntersville author Kathryn Lang wrote a story titled “Digging up Bones.” It’s a murder mystery set among the exhibits of the Moundville Archeological Park. Patrick Miller says the location is key. He’s head of an initiative called the South Tourism Initiative or SELTI, and Lang’s story is the opening act…

 “It’s fiction written specifically to generate tourism and that’s what the first contest at Moundville was about, challenging writers to do that.”

Kathryn Lang’s story “Digging up Bones” was the winning entry of the first literary tourism competition sponsored by SELTI with the goal of promoting so called “literary tourism” or “tourism fiction” as a way to bring people into these lesser known locations. Lang has already worked her short story into her “Big Spring” novel series which is based on locations in northern Alabama.

Patrick Miller says right now travel guides are being put together on SELTI’s website. Miller says these guides will eventually make their way into the novels themselves, so when people buy the books, the guides are included.

SELTI isn’t alone in this endeavor; they’re getting some support from Montgomery. Senator Scofield is the chairman of the state tourism and marketing committee and he has shown his support for this type of promotion. Scofield is challenging authors in the state to take up this form of writing as a way to help bring people to Alabama.

People visiting a location from their favorite stories is nothing new, and Alabama has benefitted from this. Scofield uses the 1986 Winston Groom novel “Forrest Gump” as an example…

“People ask about where Greenbo Alabama is, which doesn’t exist, but Bayou La Batre certainly exists. We have tracked that after the novel came out, after Forrest Gump came out, Bayou La Batre actually experienced a boom in tourism.”

While a story alone can draw people in, an added guide with links to tourist attractions could draw even more. That is the hope of people like Senator Scofield and the members of SELTI, to help bring tourism to the often overlooked communities in Alabama that have so much to offer.

These parties are also hoping this genre can take off and promote tourism to locations off the beaten path all over the country. If it does, people can look back see that it got its start right here in Alabama.

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