IF THE TAOS HUM COULD TALK, the mysterious low-frequency buzz might recommend a reading list. That’s not outside the realm of magical realism for the heady old town and its storied literary history. In the 1920s, luminaries such as Mabel Dodge Luhan, D.H. Lawrence, and Willa Cather began bolstering Taos’s reputation as a site of literary pilgrimage. Taos poet laureate Joshua Concha says that legacy’s nucleus lies in the cultural allure of his own Northern Tiwa people at Taos Pueblo. Their captivating oral and artistic traditions, dances, and songs “lend to the mystique that writers like Frank Waters have attempted to capture in their works,” Concha says.
Taos gets an influx of bookish people this month with the International D.H. Lawrence Conference, July 18–23, and the Taos Writers Conference, July 29–31. But you don’t need to be a conference-goer or writer-in-residence to make a booklover’s pilgrimage to this literary stronghold.
If you’re heading to Taos via the scenic High Road, break for a stroll in Truchas. When local author John Nichols’s 1974 novel The Milagro Beanfield War was made into a movie, director Robert Redford filmed it here. This 18th-century village remains largely true to the norteño way of life Nichols sought to capture in Milagro, and its dramatic vantage on the Truchas Peaks and the canyons below might just inspire a new draft of something.
In the heart of Taos Plaza, greet the life-size bronze statue of Padre Antonio José Martínez, the influential priest and publisher who used the first press in New Mexico to print its first book, in 1839, and encouraged literacy among Hispanic boys and girls. Then stroll over to the two-story Op.Cit Taos bookstore, in the John Dunn Shops, to check out how Cather portrayed Padre Martínez in Death Comes for the Archbishop while you peruse new and used books, including a fine selection of rare, Southwest-focused titles. A couple blocks over, don’t miss the used bookstore at the headquarters for SOMOS, the Society of the Muse of the Southwest, which sponsors the Taos Writers Conference and other readings and events. The store makes for an eclectic browse, with thousands of titles ranging from $1 to $3 and plenty of offerings from local authors.
If the Taos literary scene has a soul, it likely hangs out at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. The rambling charm of the hotel and conference center lures day and overnight guests to delight in the quirky details of Luhan’s one-time home and salon. Lodgings are named after the creative types who came to stay with the literary lioness, and day visitors can take a self-guided tour of the main house during visiting hours. If you’re booking a room, keep an eye out for colorful windows hand-painted by Lawrence and artist Dorothy Brett. The solarium offers 360-degree views of the mountains and Taos Pueblo.
Poet Lauren Camp, whose book Turquoise Door was inspired by a creative residency in the Luhan house, says it only took a day of living there for the spirit of its former hostess to capture her imagination. “I began trying to understand who this person was, what drove her. From just being there, I started to build poems.” Fans of more luxurious digs might check into another former Luhan property, now a sprawling bed-and-breakfast called Hacienda del Sol, where Waters stayed when he wrote People of the Valley in 1939.
For the British writer Lawrence, who is indelibly linked to Taos despite having lived there for only two years, New Mexico was where “the old world gave way to a new.” Commune with both worlds while driving the bumpy dirt road up to the rustic D.H. Lawrence Ranch, outside Taos in San Cristobal, where you can gaze up at a gnarly old ponderosa pine that was immortalized in paint by a visiting Georgia O’Keeffe (The Lawrence Tree, 1929). The rest of the property houses the Lawrences’ one-time digs and a one-room cabin once occupied by Brett.
Before leaving, make sure to walk up the path to the Lawrence Memorial, a small, chapel-like building attractively nestled in the forest. There, painted yellow flowers and green vines adorn an altar containing the author’s ashes. It took a mighty three-way fight involving Luhan, Brett, and Lawrence’s widow, Frieda, to get them there—but that’s another story altogether.
International D.H. Lawrence Conference. This year’s gathering celebrates the centenary of the author’s arrival in New Mexico. July 18–23
SOMOS’s sixth annual Taos Writers Conference. Jan Smith, director of SOMOS, says its mission includes bringing diverse voices to Taos. Those include this year’s keynote speaker, author Ana Castillo. July 29–31