photos by Joe Carrow
Jesse Prado once said: ‘Hosting a blog is like being Batman. No one cares.’
You could probably say the same thing about being a creative writer. Like, we all think we’re pretty amazing (seriously, we all think we’re hot shit) and we all think we are doing a vital service for our communities at large, but honestly most people most of the time don’t really give a damn about what poets and fiction writers are doing.
We do performances and have parties with poetry readings and get bizarro and hang out at bookstores until the owners kick us out, but are we breaking any new ground? Are we opening up the doors for fresh audiences? Is it possible to get more people caring about reading books and buying books and shopping at local bookstores and supporting the small press industry? Does anyone care?
My name is Alexandra Naughton and I want to introduce you to local writers and artists and book purveyors who are struggling to keep up in this bubble about to burst economy (you know what I’m talking about, San Franciscans) and striving to stay doing cool stuff in this place we call home. Namely the East Bay. We can’t really afford SF rent anymore, if we ever could (except Amy Berkowitz who has rent control). I want you to come and party with us (poets know how to have a good time– trust), and I wanna get us all talking because I think we could all show each other a lot.
So this is a short little series spotlighting some local writers in bookstores. It all started out with a post on facebook, as it usually does. Brokeass Stuart’s Goddamn Website was featuring a new series called ‘beautiful women in bookstores,’ luring online media consumers in to look at photographs of a beautiful woman posing in a bookstore while also maybe reading about a local bookstore. I commented that it felt like a missed opportunity, a chance to spotlight some talented local writers.
So I got my own idea, and I collaborated with some friends. Our idea was to build upon ‘beautiful women in bookstores’ without being quite so objectifying. Yes, writers are beautiful people too, but more than that they are talented and work hard for their vocations. Brokeass Stuart signed off on it, saying it was a good idea. And so we proceeded.
Anyway, I thought it would be tight to spotlight some awesome bookstores and literary salons that are doing their thing by hosting happenings and doing their best by providing a space for people in the community to meet and try to make something beautiful. Try to make something meaningful, if only for a moment. If only until you finish reading that chapbook. If only until the weird girl on stage finishes smearing ashes on her forehead. For the first feature in this series, I talked with two amazing writers, Amy Berkowitz and Vernon Keeve III, and we all answered some questions about one of our favorite literary spaces in Oakland, E.M. Wolfman Books at 410 13th Street in Oakland, California.
What do you love about this bookstore?
Amy Berkowitz: I love E.M. Wolfman because it’s such a community center. I was trying not to say community center, because it’s not, like, a big rec hall where people take quilting classes… but on the other hand, I wouldn’t blink an eye if you told me there was going to be a quilting class there. Actually, I’m now on the wikipedia page for community center, and Wolfman does fit wikipedia’s definition—it serves as a place for community celebrations, a place where community members meet each other socially, a place housing local clubs, and yes, even a place for wedding ceremonies (I had the pleasure of attending a sweet and teary poet wedding there last spring).
Wolfman is a great small bookstore, with a really nicely curated selection of used and new books and a very solid and frequently refreshed selection of local publications. So even if it didn’t host a pop-up clothes mending service or weekend tarot readings by donation or a panel on gender and violence in literature held inside a blood ritual tent or drone music performances or a really wonderful series of art shows in the back room or the opening night of the HAXAN film fest or a ton of readings by a wide variety of local and visiting writers, I would still recommend it as a very lovely independent bookstore. But it’s so much more than that.
Vernon Keeve III: Wolfman books looks like it was birthed from my own imagination. I would honestly read any book on their shelves and read anything suggested to me by the owners of the store. The space almost feels like a carefully curated artist’s exhibit, because of the layout and how the selection of books speak to one another. Wolfman books is a space that speaks to society and tells society what needs to be done in order to make society a giving place for everyone.
Alexandra Naughton: I love E.M. Wolfman. It has this weird homey feeling. Maybe it’s the sparkly spackled ceiling that everyone’s grandma in South Philly has, except more magical. Like, it doesn’t feel like any home I’ve ever been to, but it’s a home I wish I could visit and host parties at. And I kind of do. It’s one of my favorite spots to host Be About It readings because of the setting and tone of the place.
All that reclaimed wood on the walls and floors lends this easy, warm, coffee shop of my youth feel. The artwork on the walls and in the gallery area is always interesting and funky. And it’s hella close to BART, so it’s super convenient for events. The first time I did a show at Wolfman was for the 2014 Beast Crawl, and since then I’ve been hosting shows at the spot on a pretty regular basis. I’m happy to have developed a relationship with this bookstore, and I am thankful to the owner, Justin Carder, for being such a supportive member of the literary/arts community. Like Amy already said, Wolfman isn’t just a bookstore, it’s a community center.
What’s your favorite book in this bookstore?
AB: I don’t think I can pick a favorite, but I’ll tell you about the books I chose off the shelves for our photo shoot: Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be, Paul Ebenkamp’s The Louder The Room The Darker The Screen, This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, and Miranda July’s The First Bad Man. I haven’t read The First Bad Man yet; everything else I highly recommend.
VK: I stumbled across a copy of The BreakBeat Poets and thumbed through it. It was amazing to see some familiar names. Danez Smith, a personal hero of mine, had 3 or 4 selections in the book. It Hasn’t Stopped Being California Here by Jordan Karnes is also a book to be lauded. I was in poetry workshops with Jordan in grad school, and it is fascinating to see her evolution as a writer in her book of essays. She has always been one of my favorite poets, but to see a poet branch out into essays was something that inspired me to write the book that I’m releasing with Nomadic Press Conversation with a Southern Migrant in the winter.
AN: I bought Like Life by Lorrie Moore at Wolfman over a year ago and it’s one of those books that I just keep by my bedside and reread when I feel lonely.
Do you have a book out right now?
AB: I do! Tender Points came out in June. It’s a book-length lyric essay about sexual violence, chronic pain, and patriarchy published by local small press Timeless, Infinite Light. I’ll be doing a seven-city east coast tour in September to support it. More here.
VK: I don’t but it is coming. Look for it from Nomadic Press, as well as the releases from other amazing local writers.
AN: Hell yes I do. Punk Hostage Press put out my second book earlier this year, You Could Never Objectify Me More Than I’ve Already Objectified Myself, which is a poetry collection about my experience as ‘girl on the internet.’ I have another poetry collection, My Posey Taste Like, published by Bottlecap Press this spring, which was heavily inspired by the Lana Del Rey album Born to Die. Both books are available at Wolfman Books and other local shops, as well as online. And of course, you can also find issues of Be About It zine and our chapbooks at Wolfman <3