New Bookstore Shines Spotlight on Independent Presses

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    Malvern Books, which opened its doors on October 8 in Austin, Texas, is welcoming the city’s literary community to enjoy its bright, open space and shelves filled with titles from independent presses. The indie bookstore takes its name from William Langland’s 14th century poem Piers Plowman, which opens in the Malvern Hills of England.

    Store owner Joe Bratcher spent 25 years running Host Publications, a small press that brings international literature to the U.S. Looking to introduce readers in this country to talented foreign writers from the likes of Chile, Turkey, and Poland, Bratcher founded the press in 1987 in Austin and opened a second office in New York City.

    “While I had thought of opening a bookstore during this time, I had never had the right opportunity,” he said, but after moving back to Austin, “the moment just seemed right. I want to be able to get even more books into the hands of readers than I have been able to as a publisher. Opening a book shop is a way to make this a reality.”

    Bratcher signed a lease for the 1,800-square-foot storefront near the University of Texas at Austin in April 2013 and work commenced to turn the former adult novelty shop into a bookstore, complete with colorful walls, modern flooring, funky lighting, and tall bookshelves in a wide-open, welcoming space. The surrounding area includes a video store, a record store, several restaurants, and a thrift shop.

    Malvern’s blog details some of the more unique features of the store, including Malvern the Lion, a massive lion statue on casters that prowls the shop, and a life-sized pirate figure swaying in the store’s front window. With a mix of poetry, book suggestions, music reviews, literary news, and store happenings, the store’s social media outreach — through its blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages — keeps customers fully in the loop and thoroughly entertained.

    True to Bratcher’s lifelong passion for independent presses, Malvern Books offers a highly focused inventory, hand-selected by store staff. The bookstore placed an order with Small Press Distributors over the summer, which they learned was the largest single order ever for the company from an independent bookstore.

    Alongside fiction, poetry, graphic novels, and other indie press titles, customers can peruse a large selection of literary journals. The growing inventory will soon include mugs and T-shirts with the Malvern Books logo, as well as cards and notebooks.

    “I also want to create a space where people can meet and relax amongst great books,” said Bratcher. “The number of spaces for writing and reading groups is decreasing in Austin, and I want to reverse that trend. We will have many readings and signings. I also want to encourage reading and writing groups to meet in our space to discuss their original work or works by others.”

    Malvern is exhibiting at the Texas Book Fair this weekend, October 26 and 27, and will host its grand opening on November 22 and 23. The latter will feature readings by Matt Hart (Forklift, Ohio, Forklift, Ink.), Joshua Edwards (Imperial Nostalgias, Ugly Duckling Press), and Lynn Xu (Debts & Lessons, Omnidawn Publishing).

    For Bratcher, the opening of Malvern Books is simply the next step in his literature-fueled life. “My desire is to expose people to great works of imagination. I have always wanted to share my passion about literature with as many others as I possibly can,” he said. “Whether somebody has read all of the postmodern works and is looking for a specific writer, or if they are new to serious literature and are asking for who to read to take them out of the mainstream, I love sharing literature with people.”