This week, Christine Deavel, co-owner of Open Books: A Poem Emporium in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle and bookseller for 26 years, announced that she is moving on from the store to accept a position as a family and patient liaison at Harborview Medical Center. Below, we have her sweet letter to Open Books’ customers, followed by an exclusive interview about her life in books and poetry.
Dear Fellow Open-Booksters,
You are my fellows indeed, and I am so grateful for the relationships we have forged. Bookselling has been my life for 26 years, 20 of them at the Poem Emporium. I cannot imagine a more nourishing, enlightening, and at times wacky way to have spent that time. And now it is time for me to try something new. I am pleased to announce that I have taken a position as a family and patient liaison at Harborview Medical Center, a place also very dear to my heart.
Despite my excitement, I have to say I’ve had a lump in my throat the last couple weeks. What an incredible gift it’s been for me to work alongside John for two-plus decades. I treasure absolutely every minute — even the ones in which we bickered with each other. When Alexander joined us in 2014, John and I were both stunned and delighted to discover just how much he brings to this rather quirky venture. I will miss working with both of them immensely. The store remains, of course, in their ever capable hands. I don’t need to tell you how bright and charming they are.
You’ll still see me once in a while (I’ll happily be taking part in next Sunday’s Poetry in Conversation). And, of course, I still need poetry in my life, so I know we’ll sit next to each other at readings or run into each other as we’re browsing the shelves. Ah yes, now I get to have the unadulterated pleasure of being a customer at Open Books.
Take care, dear friends–
TT: What is your earliest memory as a bookseller?
CD: Sitting at the desk paying bills. Not romantic, I know. But truly, there is something deeply satisfying about being able to do that, about finding a way to take part in the chaotic wonder that is the book business. Every check I was able to write meant that we had been successful in connecting readers with books.
TT: If you had to pick just one to take home with you tonight, would you choose an anthology of poetry or a chapbook?
CD: Oh, the pain of choosing! Probably, given that I’m in the midst of learning a new job with long days, I’d pick the anthology, open at random, and read the evening’s poem.
TT: About how many bookshelves do you have at home?
CD: We’ve got 12 bookcases (one is floor-to-ceiling and 6-feet wide). And then there’s the floor!
TT: What’s your favorite book to give as a gift?
CD: With the caveat that this greatly varies with recipient and situation, I’ll mention four little volumes: Mary Ruefle’s The Most of It (intelligent and funny small prose pieces published by Wave Books); Joshua Beckman’s Your Time Has Come (sweet, sharp tiny poems, also from Wave), Federico García Lorca’s The Cricket Sings (ostensibly poems for children by one of Spain’s foremost poets, but really for anyone, with charming illustrations; a bilingual edition published by New Directions); and Gennady Aygi’s Salute — to Singing (this marvelous Chuvash poet’s translations of folk songs from the Volga region, published by Zephyr Press in both Russian and English).
TT: What is your most memorable event?
CD: Keep in mind that my memory is now filled to overflowing with events that have delighted, moved, and transformed me. Even if I can’t retain the details, I know I’ve been affected by every one of them. You can’t help but be touched by the coming together of people to share and experience poetry. Two events come to mind right away. The first occurred at our old store, also called Open Books and just 7 blocks away from our current shop. It was a general bookstore, but with a large poetry selection even then. One of our earliest readings was by an unknown who’d just published a book called The Business of Fancydancing. We weren’t sure how many people this Sherman Alexie would draw, so we paired him with someone else. His reading that night was stellar, and we knew his was a voice that would soon be heard far beyond our small shop. The second event I’ll mention just happened recently. We held our first Poetry Recitation Circle at the store, for which John and I, and a number of others, spent weeks memorizing a poem. It was a marvelous evening — inspiring and nourishing, with laughter and sighs in equal portion. It even included an impromptu recitation of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by a young woman who’d learned it for school several years ago. Dazzling!
CD: Contrary to popular belief, most folks actually like poetry, they just don’t trust themselves with it, and therefore don’t always seek it out. I think this is true for booksellers as well as civilians. I did do a bit of cheerleading for poetry when I was on the PNBA Awards panel (a great experience, by the way), but mostly I tried to draw my colleagues’ attention to strong books they may not have been aware of. Poetry usually flies below the radar. As the co-owner of a specialty shop, I very much appreciated the goad to read outside my genre and to hear from my fellow booksellers what was exciting them. We had some wonderfully vigorous discussions.
TT: How do you think poetry and books will play a part in your next chapter?
CD: Lucky me, I live above a great poetry-only bookstore and am married to the guy who runs it. I know I’ll still be traipsing in, seeing what’s new, or picking up an older title I’ve missed. I do feel liberated now to read whatever I want, not just the latest arrivals and not just poetry. I also am still writing, which means I’m reading. I’m a messy reader — a bit of that, a bit of this. And most of those books are on the floor!
And now, I’m going to ask myself the question you didn’t ask me — Why are you leaving?
To spend less time with family. (A joke, written by my ever-clever spouse. Whom I do miss sharing workdays with, lots.)
Best wishes, Christine! We look forward to shopping alongside you.