Explore Your Local: El Paso’s Newest Independent Bookstore, Literarity Book Shop

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El Paso, TX. West Texas. Mountain Time. Desert. Borders.

The 915 is El Paso’s area code, and also how young natives refer to their city after singer Khalid popularized it in his song, “American Teen.” El Paso is the sixth largest city in Texas, which many don’t know because it’s over 552 miles away from the other large cities in the state. With this geographical isolation and distance, El Paso harnesses a unique culture, encompassing both the cozy small town feel while also promoting it’s progressive urban environment. El Paso is also a proud border town, sharing its border with New Mexico and Mexico, which houses a diverse population of Latinx peoples, among other immigrants from around the world. From this powerful culture, El Paso has given us such important art, specifically literary art.

 

Our intern Paulina, a native El Pasoan, is proud to present a two-part tour of on El Paso’s literary community: second, featuring Literarity Book Shop.

 

 

Situated on the westside of El Paso, and a short drive away from the University of Texas at El Paso, Literary Book Shop opened its doors on July 5th, 2017. Owners Bill Clark and Mary Anna Clark had been collecting books for about 30 years. The couple had lived in Los Angeles for several years, and missed the accessibility to independent bookstores in El Paso. Their solution? To open up their own independent bookstore.

 

 

Inside Literarity, I felt like I was walking through someone’s personal library. It was cozy and colorful, with little scrabble tiles decorating shelves with genre names. It made sense that this book shop felt like someone’s personal library because Bill and Mary Anna focused on incorporating their own collection alongside local author works and classics.

 

 

The phrase “open books open minds” is sprawled out on the shop’s back wall and encompasses the importance of both independent bookstores and literature itself.

“Books play an important role both in a local community and in society as a whole,” Bill Clark said. “Bookstores for many years have become a place where people can gather and exchange ideas and be exposed to new ways of thinking.”

 

To El Paso, this is special because of how diverse our community is. El Paso is a haven for immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and other parts of the world. The community has access to such different cultural experiences and mindsets because of our symbiotic border. So representation is a must for our literary community, and Literarity stocks both classics and a curated selection of new books, including works from local publishers Cinco Puntos Press and Veliz Books, as well as works from Dallas’ local publishing press, Deep Vellum. The shop has on its shelves works by Filipina author Sasha Pimentel, who lives in El Paso and teaches in the bilingual MFA program at UTEP. Literarity also has a great collection of Rosa Alcalá’s works. Other notable El Pasoan authors that grace Literarity’s shelves are Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Alfredo Corchado, and Phillip Connors.

 

 

Yet, because El Paso is over seven hours away from the other large Texas cities, it can feel like El Paso  is isolated from the rest of the Texan literary community. However, Bill stated “the support all starts here, locally,” and we couldn’t agree more. El Paso is thriving as a literary community because of the increased support that its local authors have been receiving, and will hopefully keep increasing as the scene gets bigger.

 

Bill was also nice enough to share his latest book picks and personal staples with us:

Since Literarity is still new, they do not have an online store just yet, so we highly encourage physically stopping by the shop to inquire and purchase any books! Otherwise, we have linked the following recommendations with BookPeople, our official Texas Book Festival book seller.

 

Homelands by Alfredo Corchado

BookPeople’s Description: “When Alfredo Corchado moved to Philadelphia in 1987, he felt as if he was the only Mexican in the city. But in a restaurant called Tequilas, he connected with two other Mexican men and one Mexican American, all feeling similarly isolated. Over the next three decades, the four friends continued to meet, coming together over their shared Mexican roots and their love of tequila. One was a radical activist, another a restaurant/tequila entrepreneur, the third a lawyer/politician. Alfredo himself was a young reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Homelands merges the political and the personal, telling the story of the last great Mexican migration through the eyes of four friends at a time when the Mexican population in the United States swelled from 700,000 people during the 1970s to more than 35 million people today. It is the narrative of the United States in a painful economic and political transition.

As we move into a divisive, nativist new era of immigration politics, Homelands is a must-read to understand the past and future of the immigrant story in the United States, and the role of Mexicans in shaping America’s history. A deeply moving book full of colorful characters searching for home, it is essential reading.”

 

Song for the River by Phillip Connors 

BookPeople’s Description: “From one of the last fire lookouts in America comes this sequel to the award-winning Fire Season–a story of calamity and resilience in the world’s first Wilderness. A dozen years into his dream job keeping watch over the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, Philip Connors bore witness to the wildfire he had always feared: a conflagration that forced him off his mountain by helicopter, and changed forever the forest and watershed he loved. It was merely one of many transformations that arrived in quick succession, not just fire and flood but illness, divorce, the death of a fellow lookout in a freak accident, and a tragic plane crash that rocked the community he called home. At its core an elegy for a friend he cherished like a brother, A Song for the River opens into celebration of a landscape redolent with meaning–and the river that runs through it. Connors channels the voices of the voiceless in a praise song of great urgency, and makes a plea to save a vital piece of our natural and cultural heritage: the wild Gila River, whose waters are threatened by a potential dam. Brimming with vivid characters and beautiful evocations of the landscape, A Song for the River carries the story of the Gila Wilderness forward to the present precarious moment, and manages to find green shoots everywhere sprouting from the ash. Its argument on behalf of things wild and free could not be more timely, and its goal is nothing less than permanent protection for that rarest of things in the American West, a free-flowing river–the sinuous and gorgeous Gila. It must not perish.”

 

For Want of Water by Sasha Pimentel

BookPeople’s Description: “El Paso is one of the safest cities in the United States, while across the river, Ciudad Juarez suffers a history of femicides and a horrific drug war. Witnessing this, a Filipina’s life unravels as she tries to love an addict, the murders growing just a city–but the breadth of a country–away. This collection weaves the personal with recent history, the domestic with the tragic, asking how much “a body will hold,” reaching from the border to the poet’s own Philippines. These poems thirst in the desert, want for water, searching the brutal and tender territories between bodies, families, and nations.”

 

 

 

Myother Tongue by Rosa Alcalá

BookPeople’s Description: “‘Rosa Alcalá’s new poemario, Myother Tongue, begins in the archives of what has yet to be written. She writes with precision and dynamism from the borders between death (of a mother) and birth (of a daughter). What a body produces, and what produces a body: labor, trauma, memory, sacrifice, pain, danger, and language formed both on the tongue and in the culture and the spaces between what can be said and what is missing, the linguistic and existential problem of not having the right words. The darknesses in Alcala’s work emerge from what happens when we don’t see ourselves in the languages that both form and destroy us as we labor in this ‘dream called money.’ Alcala is a {un}documentarian of the highest order, a {un}documentarian of what history and memory try to erase. Her poems are urgent, demanding and haunting.’  –Daniel Borzutzky”