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.
“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.”
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.
“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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