KITTERY, Maine — This Tuesday will mark the 125th anniversary of Rice Public Library as Kittery’s longstanding literary institution — a bastion of knowledge and information.
But, for a time, Kittery was also home to another literary institution, whose influence extended far beyond the southernmost tip of Maine — the eminent author, editor and critic William Dean Howells. Today, the periodicals room on the ground floor of the Rice building — known as the Kay Howells Room — serves as a link between the library and the famous writer’s family.
Howells was truly a giant of American letters as the 19th century evolved into the 20th, to the extent that to this day the nationwide William Dean Howells Society is devoted to advancing his scholarship. Every five years the American Academy of Arts and Letters bestows the William Dean Howells Medal upon what it considers the most distinguished novel published during that span.
Howells published more than 30 novels and volumes of poetry during his career, including his most notable book “The Rise of Silas Lapham” and the charming short story “Christmas Every Day.”
Howells is best known as perhaps the leading advocate of realism in literature; his reign as editor of the then-powerful Atlantic Monthly; and as critic and champion of other great writers of his day, especially his good friend Mark Twain.
Howells purchased a summer home in Kittery Point in 1902, after he’d already been proclaimed “the dean of American letters.” He referred to the Pepperrell Road house as his “rugged little nest on the Maine coast” and entertained friends like Twain and Henry James there.
“If it could be managed, I should like to spend the rest of my winters at Florence or Rome, and my summers at Kittery Point,” he wrote to his sister in 1903. [read more at the link above]