Bookstores have a rather storied history of venturing into publishing.
Shakespeare and Company in Paris put out Ulysses after publishers rejected it as too obscene. City Lights in San Francisco published the similarly controversial Howl, several Beat Generation poets, and sundry other authors.
M. Travis DiNicola, executive director of Indy Reads Books and the not-for-profit Indy Reads Literacy Program it supports, reflected on that history when he opened the downtown bookstore two years ago.
"We wanted to make sure we did it right and made a high-quality book," DiNicola says. "We spent a lot of time discussing what it would include and who we would include, and it's come together over the past two years."
In November, the independent bookstore on Mass Ave. that supports adult literacy throughout Central Indiana will publish Indy Writes Books, A Book Lover's Anthology, just in time for the holidays. The first book ever published by Indy Reads, which has emerged as a hub of Indianapolis literary culture, features stories about reading and bookstores.
Indy Writes includes contributions by the bestselling and box office-conquering John Green and other notable Indy authors and poets, including Engine Books publisher Victoria Barrett, PEN/Hemingway winner Michael Dahlie, Indiana Writers Center Executive Director Barbara Shoup, Edgar Award recipient Ben Winters, and Going All the Way author Dan Wakefield, who also wrote a foreword about the history of authors in Indiana. There's also puzzles from Crawfordsville native Will Shortz renowned New York Times crossword puzzle editor and Indiana University graduate.
"We decided we wanted to feature authors who had been here for readings or been supporters of the bookstore -- local, regional and national authors who had been connected to the bookstore in some way," DiNicola says. "We decided on a theme connected to literacy and bookstores ... it was extraordinary what they came up with, in most cases new pieces specifically for the anthology but also pieces that had been previously unpublished."
Green, for instance, furnished three essays that were taken from a series of commentaries he did for National Public Radio while living in Chicago.
Shoup, an award-winning author who just published the novel Looking for Jack Kerouac contributed an essay about how she had a life-changing experience while reading John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me in high school. The white author altered his skin color to experience what it was like to be a black person in America, and Shoup was lost in the book for days and fearful as she turned the pages because it made the abstract real.
"I was forever changed," she says. "It wasn't just that I felt as if I had experienced the cruelty of whites toward blacks firsthand, though that was powerful ... reading that book made me experience for the first time what I've come to think of as literacy of the heart, which I explored throughout my essay piece, Black Like ... Me? Reading good books makes us better human beings, more curious about what makes people tick."
Acclaimed Western writer Larry D. Sweazy did not have to think very long about what he wanted to contribute, because he's always felt strongly that bookstores improve the lives of everyone in the community. He can't imagine living anywhere without a bookstore.
His short story, How to Swim, features a main character who turns to a bookseller for knowledge on how to overcome a childhood trauma. The protagonist gets the expected books on the subject, as well as more surprising titles, such as the biography of a Holocaust survivor who tried to escape by jumping in a river even though he didn't know how to swim.
"I don't want to give away the ending," he says. "But I think that's how important books, and bookstores, are to us all. They have the power to change lives, save lives. As writer, as a lover of books, I always want to tell that story, but this one came out to be much more than I expected it to be."
Sweazy says he was amazed by the lineup of contributors that DiNicola and co-editor Zach Roth assembled. He thinks Indy Writes reflects a deep pool of talent in Indianapolis and Indiana.
Sweazy hopes readers are introduced to new writers and come away with a different perspective on local writers after reading the anthology.
"The cause of literacy is a high calling," he says. "Being able to read changed my life, became my way my life, how I make a living. To be able to contribute to that for someone else's pleasure, so they can experience what I have experienced as a reader, as a writer, a book lover, is priceless. It's one of the main reasons I do what I do."
The Margot L. Eccles Arts and Culture Fund, a fund of CICF, bankrolled the anthology with a grant. All proceeds from the $25 hardcover will benefit Indy Reads Books, a non-profit that strives to make Indianapolis 100 percent literate by serving people 18 years or older who struggle to read or write, or who are learning the English language.
Indy Writes should be available by Nov. 1, and the bookstore hopes to make it available online for pre-orders in mid-October. Depending on the success of this first book, Indy Reads hopes to publish more in the future, according to DiNicola.