The Cape and islands have long been a popular place for authors and other creative types. In fact, a selection from authors who have summered here, lived here year-round, or simply enjoyed visiting would fill a weighty tome.
During the 20th century, the Outer Cape was a prime gathering spot for writers and the intelligentsia of the day. Playwright Eugene O'Neill, winner of three Pulitzer Prizes and the 1936 Nobel Prize, had his first play, Bound East for Cardiff, performed in a shack on a wharf in Provincetown during the summer of 1916. That was long before he became one of the giants of modern drama. In the 1981 film Reds, directed by and starring Warren Beatty, the part of Eugene O'Neill is played by Jack Nicholson, and parts of the movie are set in Provincetown. In the 1950s, playwright Tennessee Williams was a prominent Provincetown resident, and it's said he wrote parts of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof while staying at Captain Jack's Wharf, a bohemian lodging spot on the west end of town. He also shared a house with Carson McCullers in the summer of 1946, when he was writing Summer and Smoke and she was transforming her novel Member of the Wedding into a play. Norman Mailer lived in Provincetown for years and filmed his directorial debut, Tough Guys Don't Dance, in Provincetown. There's now an artists' colony and residencies in Mailer's old house. Paul Theroux and Kurt Vonnegut, who was a founding member of the still-lively Barnstable Comedy Club, both had houses here and wrote about Cape Cod. Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, has a family home in Truro and is a member of the Provincetown artists club, the Beachcombers.
Any recommended reading list for the Cape and islands starts with the classic Cape Cod, by Henry David Thoreau. The famous author traveled to Cape Cod from 1849 to 1857, riding the stagecoach from Boston to Orleans and then walking from Eastham to Provincetown. Another classic book of the region is The Outermost House, by Henry Beston, which tells the story of the author's year living in a cabin on the beach in Eastham, recording the seasonal changes. Perhaps my favorite overview of Cape Cod literature can be found in Cape Cod Stories, edited by John Miller and Tim Smith, with selections by 26 top writers from Herman Melville to Norman Mailer.
For good beach reading, Cape Cod, by William Martin, is an entertaining novel with a lot of history thrown in by the best-selling author. There's also The Great Beach, by John Hay, a naturalist's history of Cape Cod. For history buffs, Time and the Town: A Provincetown Chronicle, by Mary Heaton Vorse, retells the classic history of the town on the Cape's tip in the early part of the 20th century. For two very different takes on Provincetown, both released in 2002, read Land's End: A Walk in Provincetown, by Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours; and Ptown: Art, Sex and Money on the Outer Cape, by Peter Manso, which provides a bleaker view of Provincetown. Away Off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People, 1602-1890, by Nathaniel Philbrick, gives a comprehensive and entertaining history of the island. Mostly on Martha's Vineyard, by Henry Beetle Hough, is the entertaining autobiography by the longtime editor of the Vineyard Gazette.
True crime novels were practically invented on the Cape with Leo Damore's In His Garden: The Anatomy of a Murderer, about a serial murderer in Provincetown and Truro. The tradition of true crime set in the Outer Cape has continued in recent years with Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod, by Maria Flook, about the murder of Christa Worthington, in Truro, in 2002. The Year We Disappeared, by Cyline Busby and her father, John Busby, published in 2008, tells the true story of when John Busby was shot in the face while working as a police officer in Falmouth. In the course of telling the story, the book reveals some dark secrets about that Upper Cape town.
Although the Cape doesn't receive the same attention from the media as, say, New York City or Los Angeles, Nantucket did get a lot of publicity from Wings, a popular television show that ran for 7 years in the 1990s and was set in Nantucket's tiny airport (which is currently being expanded to twice the size). Music on Cape Cod must begin and end with Patti Page's classic song, "Old Cape Cod." There's really nothing else that comes close.
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