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Jul 12, 2012, 3:51 PM

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Notes from Los Angeles Roundtable Meeting Can't Post

Periodically, Poets & Writers convenes regional roundtable meetings, where writers and other members of the literary community can exchange ideas, network, and discuss common challenges. If you're interested in being invited to the next roundtable in your area, please email Below are notes from our last San Francisco roundtable meeting. Please note that the text is not an exact transcript of what transpired, and that the opinions expressed by attendees are not necessarily shared by Poets & Writers.

Poets & Writers

Los Angeles Literary Roundtable Meeting

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Last Bookstore


Michelle Brittan, poet
Chris Camargo, writer
Jamie FitzGerald, Poets & Writers
Charles Flowers, BLOOM lit mag
Roz Helfand, consultant
Cheryl Klein, Poets & Writers
Suzanne Lummis, Los Angeles Poetry Festival
Billy Mark, poet/The Last Bookstore
India Radfar, CPITS/WriteGirl teaching artist
Mario Rosado, poet/La Causa Charter School
Laura Simko, writer
Mike Sonksen, CSU LA/The Last Bookstore
Kurt Thum, West Hollywood Library/LGBT book club
A.K. Toney, Reading Is Poetry
Antonieta Villamil, poet/Caza de Poesia
Terry Whitten

Cheryl Klein, Director of the California Office & Readings/Workshops (West)


Billy Mark, The Last Bookstore,, co-manager

Three phases of the bookstore
1. The beginnings: Became a brick and mortar by surprise. Josh Spencer was selling books online for years when he was given the opportunity to move into downtown LA’s historic corridor for very little money, but he had just two weeks to move in. Moved from a 1000 sq ft space to a 10,000 sq ft space, which has opened the store up to beautiful creativity--a place for people to meet, to be in the same space and connect with each other.
2. 1st philosophical direction: Let’s make this a space to talk about and manifest ideas—not politics, but ideas. This fostered the panel Exchange: The Emerging Creative Economy, working with other platforms like Skillshare,, a freestyle poetry class, and The Last Bookstore University where each month a university professor teaches 3-4 classes open to anyone in the community (in this community that ranges from people who live in lofts to people who live in bags).
3. 2nd philosophical direction: Where we’re at now. This place is like a book. This place is a book. You enter into a book and leave a book, and somewhere in the middle you are transformed.

I ask people, “What does selling books look like?” and they say, “We don’t know. Let’s wait to find out; wait till this whole thing settles.” I can’t wait to hear more about that.

-For Oct: a small press and indie book music festival.
-A California shelf section featuring local authors, curated by small presses/LA writers and organized geographically. Want to connect with people in each community to curate their corridor and explain why these writers are South LA or East LA or Downtown. The shelves will be mirrored on the website with blurbs written by the curators.

-We’ve been encouraging people to get funky at readings. The second the written word is spoken, you get into a whole new world, the world of the body…

Connection between selling books and promoting writers
-Currently, the store has 6-7% new books, which will grow based on demand.
-If authors bring their own books, they keep 85% of the sales.
-A lot of rare, old books at good prices.
-90% of the stock is priced at about $5.
-The bookstore service to writers is creating the space for them to have an audience

Running a series
- Event organizers come and go.
-There is a burn-out factor to running a series—people eventually have to move on and pay rent. It’s kind of a young person’s game. The most famous case was the Iguana Café, where Viggo Mortensen hung out. A series like this springs up, acquires an intense local following, then someone burns out or they lose the space, a crisis ensues, then something else springs up.
-Lots of grassroots events, not so many mid-level, well-paid readings for writers. There’s a shortage of these.
-Venues need new energy; the kids invigorate everyone.

How can the writing community help The Last Bookstore?
-share ideas
-help develop sustainable models to pay people
-bring people out; bring them to that moment of poetry
-involvement: come to events, do events

Current hot reading series
-Literary Deathmatch,
-Write Club,
2 writers, 7 minutes to write, audience judges what’s best, donations go to charity

-Mario Rosado: Looking for opportunities for his charter school students to get involved in literary events and activities.

-Antonieta Villamil: La Poesia, 1st Saturday of every month, 8 pm-midnight, Beyond Baroque, sharing work in Spanish, salon atmosphere
-Mike Sonksen: Open mic, 3rd Sunday of every month, The Last Bookstore
-Suzanne Lummis: 17th Annual Newer Poets Reading, July 24 at the Main Library
-AK Toney: Rudiments and Rhythms workshop at Beyond Baroque in July
-Billy Mark: Kate Durbin’s Wearable Texts, six different writers create work that members of the audience can try on, Aug 23 at 8 pm.

-Jervey Tervalon’s Literature for Life launched,
Part online lit mag seeking LA stories, part arts ed with curriculum built around stories for the schools
-Check out Tervalon’s amazing book, Understand This, about South Central LA.

Cheryl Klein, Director California Office and Readings/Workshops (West), Poets & Writers, Inc.

(This post was edited by cklein on Jul 12, 2012, 3:53 PM)


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