The coastal shores of South Carolina came into view and memories of the West coast were flitting about with the sea breezes of on-coming Charleston. How long since the dramas and drudgeries of Southern California, the embellishments of memory itself. But indeed, it had been in the ballpark of some 9,000+ miles since I’d last seen that tender blue. I recalled my correspondence regarding a last glimpse of the Pacific: waxing lyrical on its undertow as a sort of mascot for our endeavor—the charm & levity of its greeting concealing the integrity & persistence of its cause.
I admittedly entered a state of leisure once the sand was again in my toes (and all over the car). Charleston’s energy, the severity of its historical glare, and the splendor of the Southern city in full bloom left me bewitched! and feeling in need of fanny-pack. This didn’t mean I couldn’t take time out to talk to some book folk though..
Down on King St. it seemed to be all happenin’. Blue Bicycle Books was front & center as the place to drop in for used, rare, and local picks. One thing that struck me about this Southern belle was being surrounded by the smoothed edges of the previously-owned and the rustic imagery of old, maritime South, yet feeling perfectly integrated within the crispness of a very conscious modern design. After ogling the hardbound Faulkner, I was leafing about the new books up front. Local history was on parade, but I was digging the local poets. I realized the edition in my hands was a new release from the manager perched in front of me, Sara Peck, and we got into a little on the small press world.
As much relief as I got from being by the water again, it was time to return to the interior and trade in those palms for pines.
Imagine this: a place where a major, quarter century-long educational experiment lasted until 1957, then 57 years later I meet a man who landed there for a Rainbow Gathering in 1987, and now I’m pulling Wave spines out from the shelves at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC. The math may seem garbled, but incidents in Asheville have a way of appearing a little witchy. Malaprop’s—taking up, in a way, where Black Mountain left off and perhaps encouraging, in part, such Rainbow gatherers—is a model haven for the writing and arts communities, and community itself, on a local and global level. Started in 1982 by a political exile from Hungary, the priority has always been inclusion—rejecting any level of censorship to create a space where voices from the periphery are exalted and all are immune in the exploration of free expression. Appropriately heady I realize, but I also recognize that these booksellers, buyers, and events organizers really know what they’re doing. They’ve created a vibe, as it were, that draws the entire spectrum from the curious to the purposeful to those in need of inspiration—nobody seeming left unsatisfied.
I sputtered up the Blue Ridge Mountains, through the fog and some pretty hairy switchbacks—making a campfire or two and enjoying the quietude of ancient geology—until I came back down to flatter planes and roads in Old Dominion and eventually made a surprise visit (for me) to the greater Richmond area. Equally a surprise was walking into Fountain Books in the Shockoe Slip district downtown. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many signed editions in my life. Owner Kelly Justice was in, fresh off a handful of big readings and sounding both relieved and raring to go for another of their deluge of events. With Amazon operating two large distribution centers in the Richmond area, keeping the doors open at an indie coming up on 40 years old is no small success. Fountain Books looks good doing it too.
As I had now made it to the sticky convergence zone of the Mid-Atlantic, it was safe to say the South was in my past—glad as I was to have seen and learned as much as I had. The highways pointed North from now on and I tell you the bookstores keep coming.
We always get excited by the variety and talent of our female poets, and are constantly amazed by their writing. Dara Wier has four books with the press, including Hat on a Pond whose “colloquial stanzas draw a reader away from a recognizable world into one in which women waltz with bears, houseflies chat with colonels, and the absence of sound makes a material presence.” Caroline Knox's Quaker Guns, among her other titles, was Winner of a 2009 Recommended Reading Award from the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker were co-editors of the anthology Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections in addition to their own amazing titles, and the enviable Noelle Kocot boasts three titles available during the sale. It is impossible to leave out the inimitable works of Mary Ruefle and Eileen Myles.
The Warehouse sale is entering the final stretch, be sure to check out all the deals available through the end of June!
There’s some imaginary line in my mind that distinguishes the American South that I know from the South which had remained a contemporary mystery to me, and this line falls somewhere around the Georgia border. So as Tennessee disappeared behind me and the lights of Atlanta threw a drama up into the sweltering late-spring sky, I became a vessel of boyish inquisitiveness and glee. I can spare the facetious regional stereotyping, leave my commentary on chicken & waffles for now, and say this: Atlanta is preparing for a groundswell of literary activity—on top of all the underreported vim and vigor happening at current with rumors of multiple new indie bookstores coming to the area in the near future.
I came principally for what I had already heard about, starting with A Cappella Books. The first thing that crossed my mind was how humbling an experience it must be for reader and audience alike to experience one of the many incredible readings & events in a space so modestly equipped. They were able to keep their doors open by moving to this compact location a couple years ago, but they continue to be the stronghold on the national book tour circuit for leading authors. This is, along with their commitment to new literature, progressive social studies, and books on the arts, doubtless the reason why they’ve been able to avoid the chopping block and keep Atlanta’s readership dynamic.
It was a scorcher the day I was walking around Little Five Points—what everyone was telling me was a little taste of the on-coming summer. It definitely seemed like the kind of town where weather is a popular conversation point. That is, until I found a wondrous assemblage of dialogues happening inside Charis Books and More—the nation’s oldest feminist bookstore. If bookstores in Atlanta have been struggling to stay afloat, Charis should be the model for they city—nay, the world over—on diversifying interests and missions. But really they’ve stayed true to the formula they opened with nearly 40 years ago: to create a forum for independent thought and polyphonic discourses for today’s changing social environment. Operating inside the bookstore itself is their non-profit—Charis Circle—which together makes Charis Books a venue for everything from reading groups to counseling for women & families to yoga classes to a broad-scoped series of events & lectures. I can’t say I was surprised to see Wave authors on the shelves in good company of many a-progressive thinker, but in a place as beneficial to this kind of community I was tickled pink.
So this is the South, I mused. It’s a beautiful thing to sense your awareness evolving. As my new friend at Charis had posed to me when I asked him why he ended up in Atlanta, “as the South goes, so goes the country.” With the political and literary activity to back up such a statement, I was inclined to go along with him. I wanted to test this out by seeing more, and the next place down the line was close enough but with a whole different thing going on. It wasn’t entirely clear to me what that was until I got to Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA. The whole gang was there. Owner Janet Geddis was chatting with authors, taking phone calls, and doing what booksellers do best (most notably, fielding a customer’s challenge “what piece of fiction should I read?” with grace and alacrity). Not wanting to hasten her mojo too much, I perused—noting the slew of Wave spines around me. When I did get a chance to talk, I got the sense of why such a place materializes and will be a staple in Athens for the foreseeable future: these are legit book people. With obsessions for literature that comes through with care and generosity, these are the people that keep you wanting to come back for more and more and more..