Q&A: Kelly Link Returns to Bookselling

Joy Baglio
From the January/February 2020 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

In October 2019 author Kelly Link and editor-publisher Gavin J. Grant opened their own bookstore in Easthampton, Massachusetts. Book Moon, formerly White Square Books, carries both new and used books and features titles by local authors and a variety of indie publishers, including Small Beer Press, which Link and Grant, who are married, have run together since 2000. The two are no strangers to bookselling—they both worked at the Avenue Victor Hugo Books in Boston in the 1990s—and they are excited to return to the business. Meanwhile they will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Small Beer, which publishes innovative fiction by writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Karen Joy Fowler, and Sofia Samatar. Link, a 2018 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and the author of four acclaimed story collections, most recently the Pulitzer Prize finalist Get in Trouble (Random House, 2015), shared her thoughts on the store’s opening, the pleasure of connecting a customer to just the right book, and how her and Grant’s many ventures influence her writing life. 

Kelly Link (Credit: Jon Crispin)

Why did you and Gavin decide to return to bookselling?
We were both very happy as booksellers, first of all. We’re coming back to it now because my MacArthur made it financially possible, and because the previous owner of White Square Books wished to get out of the business. It was a turnkey deal: We took over everything as is, including several comfortable reading chairs and a couch. The stock is roughly 50 percent new and 50 percent used, which is more or less the same as the Avenue Victor Hugo Books in Boston, where we previously worked together twenty years ago. It all feels very full-circle. I love hand-selling books and diagnosing the tastes of people who come in looking for a book to fall in love with. That’s probably my favorite thing. But we also get to design T-shirts, mugs, and maybe even a tea towel or two. We’re working with the artist Kathleen Jennings on a map of the independent bookstores of the Pioneer Valley that we will give away at the counter. 

What role do you think independent bookstores play in the literary community, and what is your vision for Book Moon?
Independent bookstores can function as third spaces. They connect readers from their local communities with books, writers, and creative and political projects. They reflect the tastes and interests of that community. The Pioneer Valley is already rich in notable bookstores. Gavin and I have an interest in science fiction and fantasy, as well as work in translation, poetry, and children’s literature. We’ll build up those sections and, along the way, figure out what Easthampton readers want in a bookstore. My personal goal is to hand-sell as many copies of Molly Gloss’s The Hearts of Horses and Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs as possible. 

Will the store have a special place for genre-bending literature? How will Small Beer Press and Book Moon work together?
We’ll keep a bookshelf of Small Beer titles up near the counter. And we will, I hope, have a good fantasy and science fiction section.

This winter also marks the twentieth anniversary of Small Beer Press. What have you loved most about bringing books into the world? 
I’m happiest that the books we publish continue to find an audience. Getting to design covers is also a great deal of fun.

You wear many hats in the literary world: writer, editor, publisher, and bookseller. How do these roles affect your writing?
I’ve always written in bursts rather than daily. I would, in fact, prefer not to write at all. In order to make myself write, though, I’ve arranged my working life so that I spend at least four afternoons a week with my friends Cassandra Clare and Holly Black. We all sit at the same table and write, with short breaks for complaining, gossip, and snacks. I’ll be at Book Moon two or three days a week. There’s a desk in the fiction section of the bookstore—I may try writing there some, too.

Your work suggests your personal commitment to the literary community. What do you think makes a good literary citizen? 
I have mixed feelings about saying anything proscriptive here. Or prescriptive. But here goes: Celebrate writing and writers you love. Don’t go out of your way to be an asshole or devalue writing that matters to other readers. And don’t buy books on Amazon!  

Joy Baglio is a fiction writer whose short stories have appeared in Tin House, American Short Fiction, the Iowa Review, TriQuarterly, New Ohio Review, and elsewhere. She is the founder and director of Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop in western Massachusetts.

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