Aspen Times Weekly: All Booked Up
If You Go …
What: Nancy K. Williams, “Haunted Hotels of Northern Colorado”
Where: Explore Booksellers
When: Monday, Oct. 26, 5 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: www.explorebooksellers.com
What: Jonathan Wells poetry reading
Where: Explore Booksellers
When: Thursday, Nov. 5, 5 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: Wells will read from his forthcoming book, “The Man With Many Pens”; www.explorebooksellers.com
Local readers are rejoicing. It’s clear at this point that rumors of Explore Booksellers’ death were largely exaggerated. The bookstore, in the months since its new owners took over, has become a hive of cultural activity.
The regular readings and talks in the shop since the summer are just the beginning, according to Ann Powers, who is organizing Explore’s events.
Powers, a writer, nonprofit administrator and frequent Aspen visitor, has long been enamored of Explore. After the new owners — Doug Phelps and his investors from the Public Interest Network — bought it in January, they contacted her to help book literary programming there. The Main Street bookstore was a hub of local culture for years, from the time Katherine Thalberg founded it in the 1970s and continuing after the purchase by Sam and Cheryl Wyly in 2007, but events tapered off in recent years as the Wylys faced financial difficulty.
Powers began by asking around town about what people want to see going on in the shop.
“I went out and met the staff and everyone was so excited about the new ownership and all the things we can do at the bookstore — events, great readings, classes, workshops, literary parties,” says Powers. “It’s a big part of the community and has deep roots in the community.”
Powers said she is aiming for variety in the programming. She is bringing a mix of national authors and local writers, while aiming to spark creative and intellectual exchanges.
“We want to be a community center for interesting conversation and ideas,” she says.
So far the bookstore is delivering on its promise of variety and intriguing conversation: August saw readings by writers as varied as renewable energy expert Amory Lovins and “Into the Roaring Fork” author Jeff Howe, and presentations by local writers like Paul Anderson, D.J. Watkins and Tony Vagneur. September saw the launch of the new Local Writers Read series, with poets Cameron Scott and Valerie Haugen performing followed by an open mic (the night before, William Moyers read from his addiction memoir).
In the last few weeks, events have included a “Wine & Words” happy hour with acclaimed short story writers Antonya Nelson and Steven Schwartz, kid-friendly Halloween stories and a cooking talk by Pyramid Bistro chef Martin Oswald.
Late October and early November will bring Colorado historian Nancy K. Williams and poet Jonathan Wells to the shop.
All that is to say that the bookstore, quite suddenly since it appeared poised to for a scrape-and-replace development, has taken on a salon-like vibrancy. The bookstore has partnered with programs like Aspen Words’ Aspen Writers Network, Pitkin County Library’s “Literature Out Loud!” and the Aspen Poets’ Society — inviting them to curate events and giving a broad spectrum of local word-lovers a stake in Explore.
Looking ahead, Powers said she’s interested in hosting debates on controversial local issues, and perhaps a book club with authors joining via Skype. In the high seasons, she’s hopeful that Explore can have an event nightly (or at least several times per week). The events are all free (Explore’s books, of course, are not).
“I’m looking at a little bit of everything,” she says. “Making art with words is a rich and beautiful activity and sharing that art with other people is really important. So we just want to provide a venue and an open door.”
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