Devoted to Literature
Woodland Pattern’s founding philosophy
Not simply a bookstore, the center actively seeks out top contemporary writers—both known and unknown—to read here, shows high-quality art in its gallery, screens independent and experimental films, hosts WMSE’s new music series “Alternating Currents Live,” conducts free workshops for neighborhood kids, works with other agencies in town, and more. It’s a lot of activity, and a lot of history.
More than an overgrown shoebox filled with sentimental odds-and-ends, there’s an archeology here in the archive. Anne Kingsbury, who founded the bookstore with Karl Gartung and is currently the non-profit’s executive director, says it’s so important for the story it tells. “There’s different kinds of economic information; information about many writers who are not household names, and the presses who took a chance and published them.”
“I think the canceled checks are fascinating, because you have a history of what people spent their money on,” Kingsbury says. “It starts to define through the negative spaces what was happening at a certain time.”
1979, when Woodland Pattern moved into its present building on
“Moving here was a combination of a pragmatic decision and a philosophic decision,” Kingsbury says. “The philosophy was that this is an area that, first of all, had no book place; it’s not even close to a library. We saw a need here. Secondly, this area has always been an artist’s area. The rents have always been pretty inexpensive…pragmatically, we could afford it.”
Pattern fills a hole for the entire region, not just Riverwest. Stocking over
25,000 small press titles not found elsewhere in the area and prominently featuring
chapbooks and bro
And so, to meet their goal of putting literature in the hands of readers, Woodland Pattern is, by necessity, a non-profit organization supported by book sales, memberships, programming, and sometimes unstable arts funding, which means it’s a continuing scramble to keep everything afloat. Kingsbury estimates this year’s grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is likely to be smaller than the very first one they received nearly 30 years ago.“As a non-profit, we are constantly reinventing the wheel.”
Keeping it Fresh
Reinventing the wheel, in part, means a balancing act of keeping pace with the times and staying true to your mission. Kingsbury credits the bright, young staff with helping keep the store in touch. “Continuity is interesting and important and you need to have a sense of history, but you also need to have new eyes that can see what the opportunities are,” she says.
Those eyes are certainly keeping things fresh, and they’re impacting everything from programming to marketing. Log on to MySpace and you’ll find that Woodland Pattern has nearly 1000 friends. This sort of marketing is vital to the store, which doesn’t advertise, preferring to put the money into the many programs offered through the center each year.
All the activity, in turn, keeps it fresh for the staff. “What really puts this place on the map for me is the incredible energy here,” says Chuck Stebelton, the center’s literary programming manager. That energy, and the love the staff has for the literature, will likely keep the archive in the basement growing for decades to come.
On Sunday, June 8,