The People Making Us a Well-Read City

Photos by Kyla Davidson
Will Evans, founder of Deep Vellum Publishing; Photo by Kyla Davidson

Will Evans, founder of Deep Vellum Publishing; Photo by Kyla Davidson

The Dallas literary renaissance is upon us—and it has arrived quickly.

“There was a huge gap here even just two and a half years ago,” says Will Evans, founder of Deep Vellum Publishing. “It’s happened really fast that Dallas has started to feel like a literary city.”

Evans attributes the growing literary scene to the independent book stores that have sprouted up around the Dallas area. The Wild Detectives, which opened in early 2014 and is run by Javier Garcia del Moral and Paco Vique, is a coffee-booze-book stop in Bishop Arts. Evans’s Deep Vellum, a publishing house known for its international translations, is gearing up to open its own store, Deep Vellum Books. There’s also Serj Books, which vends coffee, local food, and a small but lovely selection of handpicked books.

Javier Garcia del Moral, co-owner of The Wild Detectives; Photo by Kyla Davidson

Javier Garcia del Moral, co-owner of The Wild Detectives; Photo by Kyla Davidson

“Where do you go to see people who are into the same stuff as you, if you’re into writing—which is a solitary activity—or reading—which is also a solitary activity? Now you have book stores, and suddenly Dallas feels more literary,” Evans says. “When the Wild Detectives opened, Dallas went from nothing on the literary map to being a place—it gave us a sense of place, purpose, and community.”

Evans stresses that the stock of these small book shops—indie books, translated titles, works written by local authors or printed by local publishers—is different from that of a place like Half Price Books, known for its massive flagship store and rows upon rows of marked-down bestsellers.

“I really appreciate, as an author, that Wild Detectives goes out of its way to feature local authors,” says Greg Brownderville, SMU associate professor, poet, and published author of two books, Gust and Deep Down in the Delta. “When I walk into Wild Detectives, often they’ll have one of my books prominently displayed. Local authors really appreciate that.”

Anne Holcomb and John Walsh, co-owners of Serj Books; Photo by Kyla Davidson

Anne Holcomb and John Walsh, co-owners of Serj Books; Photo by Kyla Davidson

Book stores have become go-to hot spots for readings and other literary events, but Dallas-run reading series aren’t all brand new. Arts & Letters Live, hosted at the DMA, is a literary and performing arts series that has brought in big audiences to see award-winning authors and poets since 1992. Participants have included Margaret Atwood, David Sedaris, Sandra Cisneros, and many other high-profile literary names.

The Pegasus Reading Series, curated by poet Sebastian Paramo and Courtney Marie of Spiderweb Salon and often hosted by Kettle Art Gallery in Deep Ellum, showcases local and touring poets and writers.

Sebastian Paramo, Photo by Kyla Davidson

Sebastian Paramo, Photo by Kyla Davidson

“I try to reach into different literary communities around Dallas and pair them together,” says Paramo. Paramo left Dallas to study in New York and returned to Dallas about two years ago. “I never saw anything here that was that exciting, nothing that really piqued my interest. But then, when I went to New York and saw all that excitement, I wanted to bring it back here. I feel like I came at the right time, because some of that was already happening. Will Evans was already here. Wild Detectives had just opened.”

Besides book stores, there are events and avenues for literary showcase. DaVerse Lounge, through Life in Deep Ellum, features open-mic spoken word and performance art. There’s also Pandora’s Box, a poetry showcase held at the historic Margo Jones theater in Fair Park. And there are plenty of literary nonprofits, which offer programming and scholarships to budding authors: The Writer’s Garret is a literary center that features programming, education, and outreach; WordSpace was founded back in 1994 to connect talent with local audiences. Recently, WordSpace hosted an event featuring David Searcy, who published an essay collection called Shame and Wonder earlier this month. Interviewing Searcy was local literary great Ben Fountain, acclaimed author of Brief Encounters With Che Guevara and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

In the fall, Brownderville, whose forthcoming book of poetry is titled A Horse with Holes in It, will take over editorship of the Southwest Review, SMU’s prestigious, 100-year-old literary journal, from SMU professor Willard Spiegelman.

“It’s been remarkable, the change you can feel in Dallas,” he says.

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Sebastian Paramo and co-host Courtney Marie at a Pegasus Series event. Photo by Kyla Davidson

Sebastian Paramo and co-host Courtney Marie at a Pegasus Series event. Photo by Kyla Davidson

Comments

  1. Having grown up in Dallas, the son of the book review columnist for the Dallas News, this Renaissance is meaningful & gratifying. And the people pictured make me proud, especially since more than one is relatively new to Dallas & is contributing new DNA to its often list in time arts legacy.

  2. Gordon Hilgers says:

    Happy to see Dallas finally deciding in an official way to join the not-so-super-secret republic of letters that has existed worldwide for millennia. Writers are everywhere, and writers correspond, reading and writing, writing back, and then reading, one huge conversation. Think of writers as small atoms of intense energy that light the world quite differently than LED, camera phones, Skype and other devices. We should never forget the all-important audience, however, those people brave enough to step-off well-beaten roads and, well, find stuff. When a Facebook friend announces, for example, she has been selected for Best American Poetry 2016, we all perk-up, so ready for that book that it’s like Christmas Day, even though the tree itself is invisible. Most of us are way beyond mere sound bytes and text blurbs and Twitter nonsense. Here in this weird room, people like me rediscover the world every morning, deepening our communication with the written word without spending one single dollar. While I have not stood on a box in a room to broadcast a poem into, say, a crowded bar in quite some time, I like thinking of little green men coming down out of nowhere, thinking they are the Greensboro boys, writing it all down and then moving on.

  3. Conor Wallace says:

    Dallas Innovates

    I really appreciate the attention you are giving some of these great Venues, events, and organizations. I know with online articles you have to keep it pretty tight. short and sweet. Personally, I would have liked to read more on the women that are connected to the Dallas Scene.

    There are some pretty great pictures of Courtney Marie and Anne Holcomb featured in the article, and the facebook ad/link has them displayed prominently with the guys, but then I read… and no dice. I love that they were included in that one aspect of the article, but I would have really liked a little more info.

    Just some food for thought… They were right there… you were so close… help put a voice to the picture..