Thursday, May 03, 2007

I hope you can make it up to Milwaukee for my reading at Woodland Pattern on May 18 at 7 pm. Here's an interesting article on the bookstore I found online.


Karl Gartung and Anne Kingsbury met when she was a teacher and he was her student. They moved to Milwaukee and in 1980 opened the Woodland Pattern Book Center. "We've always wanted not necessarily to be the biggest, just the best," she said. "I think what makes us a little different from other literary centers is that we've presented different art forms where it intersects with text or literature."

"I guess literature and the world where it crosses into other things—that's what we want to celebrate. We want to get past the idea that people are creative only in one thing. . . The poet Derek Walcott, for instance, is also a very accomplished painter."

So, the center, which stocks around 27,000 books for sale, has also curated art shows, hosted jazz musicians, held poetry readings, taught neighborhood children how to tell stories, given lessons in making books, invited major writers to read, invited obscure writers to read, and even reserved a section of its shelves for Wisconsin writers who have self-published their work.

While many smaller bookstores across the country have fallen victim to competition from mega chains such as Barnes & Noble, Woodland Pattern has survived—or "managed" as Kingsbury says—for three reasons.

First, it has never strayed from its niche; it remains a powerhouse of poetry and small presses. Second, as a long-time non-profit center that actively takes its programs to the community, it has been fortunate enough to find some support from arts boards and private foundations each year. And third, because Kingsbury and her husband, Karl Gartung, both passionate book and art lovers, doggedly refuse to let the tiny store they turned into a non-profit book center founder.

"We started with less than a thousand books," Kingsbury said. "One thing that really helped us was that Truck Distribution, which distributed small press literature, let us take books on consignment. For quite a few years we were able to build our inventory with that. It allowed us to build with books we hadn't heard about.

In 1980, Paul Metcalf gave the store's first poetry reading, Tom Palazzolo was the first visiting filmmaker, Laurie Anderson was the first performance artist, and Milwaukeean Jill Sebastian was the first exhibiting visual artist.

Since then, the center has brought in a host of artists and writers, among them such exiles as Chinese poet Bei Dao, and in 1995 it organized its first poetry marathon with 90 Milwaukee writers participating.

Its work has been noticed; the center is now considered one of the foremost stores for poetry, especially new poetry, in the nation.

"The reputation of Woodland Pattern is itself national in scope, and I know of no other center—anywhere in the U.S.—that has carried on a more intricate and demanding program in the literary arts," wrote writer Jerome Rothenberg in 1989.

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