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So Much Depends Upon a New Bookstore: Postcard From Paris

Postcard

Online Only, posted 11.02.01

On the evening of October 29, more than seventy-five people crammed into The Red Wheelbarrow, a newly opened Anglophone bookshop, to inaugurate a reading series and celebrate two literary magazines: Upstairs at Duroc, published at the Anglo cultural center WICE, and Pharos, edited collectively by poet Alice Notley's workshop at the British Institute in Paris. The enthusiastic crowd spilled onto the cobblestone street, smoking cigarettes and craning their necks for a view of the proceedings.

The reading series, "A Blue Monday," featured sturdy and in some cases spectacular readings by six writers-some Paris fixtures, others new to the scene, and all relatively unknown outside of the literary expat community. Highlights included Laure Millet's "The Crying Bowler," a side-splitting short story about suburban family disorder, and Amy Hollowel's poems about September 11, which she prefaced by saying that "a poet's voice is more essential now than ever before." Srikanth Reddy, a fresh arrival in Paris thanks to Harvard's Whiting Fellowship, read his poem "Corruption (II)," which features the following lines:

"Lately I have found some comfort in words like here. Here was a chapel for instance. Here is a footprint filling with rain. Here might be enough."

An international crowd of English-language lovers, including students and professors from the Paris VII university across the street, had found its own "here," a place to call home, at least for the evening. "The Red Wheelbarrow is my act against globalism, my anti-matrix," said Penelope Fletcher Le Masson, the bookstore's Canadian proprietor. "Bookstores will become shrines." She expects her new venture to complement the existing competition. After two months in business, The Red Wheelbarrow has found its niche among Paris's half-dozen Anglo bookshops-not as high-brow as The Village Voice, and less bohemian than Shakespeare and Company.

Later, at a nearby wine bar, a post-reading gathering brought together six writers, one teacher, a dancer, two artists, and four magazine editors. A zealous activist named Mark Feurst peddled his new anti-war rag The First Amendment. A sighting of the just-released Frank magazine was rumored, and two representatives from Kilometer Zero-after huddling at a private table to plan their Paris-based art and literary center-promised a new issue by the end of November. Their "KMZ Venue," a series of six Sunday night variety shows in a bistro basement, kicks off November 4.

"The whole [Blue Monday] event was a confirmation that a bookstore makes itself," Le Masson said the next day. "People are thirsty to hear what people have written. I especially welcome unknown writers to read, even if they don't have books to sell." Upcoming readings at The Red Wheelbarrow include British novelist Rupert Morgan, American poet Kathleen Spivak and, Le Masson hopes, Canadian-Parisian Nancy Huston.

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