A nexus of creativity of all types, Asheville’s environs have inspired literary works that are read the world over. Famous authors past and present have called Asheville home, from O. Henry and Thomas Wolfe to Wilma Dykeman and Gail Godwin. And bookish types find the city a haven of literary riches that include independent bookstores, a thriving library system, book clubs and events such as poetry readings, writers’ workshops and author appearances.
Malaprops Bookstore/Café has been an integral part of Asheville’s literary scene for close to 30 years. The downtown establishment is more like a local cultural force than a typical bookstore.
“We are so much a part of this community,” says owner Emoke B’Racz, recalling Asheville as a sleepy little town when Malaprops opened in 1982. The pace suited her just fine. “I figured that an active library, beautiful architecture and the mountains – oh, the mountains – were, and still are, enough for one lifetime.”
In 1986, B’Racz opened a second store just a few blocks from Malaprops – Downtown Books and News. It carries used books, magazines and newspapers and has become a cultural hub for a new generation of artists and bankers, she says.
Both stores embody the unique, independent, diverse, creative vibe that permeates downtown and draws locals and tourists alike. The café is reminiscent of B’Racz’s native Europe and supports the community by serving local bakers’ specialties.
Among Malaprops’ huge selection of reading material, book lovers will find sections featuring staff favorites, poetry, green living, current events, fiction, children’s books and much more.
“Thomas Wolfe, Gail Godwin, Fred Chappell, Wilma Dykeman and John Ehle are literary treasures in Asheville. We are also lucky to have many new writers, poets and playwrights who are currently lighting up the cultural path. Our Regional Books section presents them to readers,” B’Racz says.
In addition, Malaprops’ calendar features reading-related events almost daily, and renowned authors regularly circulate through the store for book signings and lectures. Tomie dePaola, Barbara Kingsolver, Sara Gruen and Diana Gabaldon were on the calendar recently.
Battery Park Book Exchange
Asheville’s book scene welcomed a charming newcomer in February 2009, with the opening of Battery Park Book Exchange. The store specializes in used books, but what makes it particularly unique is its champagne and wine bar.
“The champagne and wine bar is a strategy for bookstore survival,” says owner Thomas Wright, only half-joking about the risk of opening a store in the midst of a national recession. Nevertheless, it’s a business model that works in the downtown setting. “In light of the timing, it’s going very well,” he adds.
Battery Park Book Exchange’s impressive inventory features many one-of-a-kind items, and customers can browse to their hearts’ content or discuss their finds with fellow patrons over glasses of local and imported wines.
Wright says he enjoys the green aspect of rescuing books headed for a landfill, as well as coming upon undiscovered treasures from prior generations.
“Worn is preferable to me than new,” Wright says. “I like books that have a certain antiquity to them.”
Downtown Asheville currently boasts five independent booksellers; Wright would love to see more.
“I’m the new kid on the block,” he acknowledges, “but I would like to see Asheville become known as much for its book inventories as for its arts and crafts. If there’s a town in the Southeast that can do this, it’s Asheville.”