Turn The Page: This Bookstore Covers So Much More
The Writer’s Block is the spine of Las Vegas’ journey as a literary city.
BY SHANE BRANT
A birdcage of freedom. A grand literary conundrum, it’s true. Maya Angelou’s great poem may spring to mind, but I mean Yeats and his Byzantium, a place of spiritual fulfillment where what’s crucial to your soul sings out to you from a golden bough of what you need, what will get you there, and what awaits your arrival. Such a place exists at The Writer’s Block, a bookstore in Downtown Las Vegas.
The birdcage analogy fits beautifully because the owners have lovingly set the shop up as a stuffed bird sanctuary. Running all through the store is the aesthetic of a forest canopy: birds on wires in the air, birds above the bookcases, branches and greenery lacing the ceiling, plants climbing pillars, and sunshine streaming from windows.
When you walk in, you’re greeted with the aroma of coffee, croissants, biscuits, and tea from their café. They have an area where people are often working, where you can sit and enjoy your coffee or pastry at the front of the store before floor-to-ceiling windows that allow the sun to shine gorgeously on the front desk that’s decorated to resemble a birdcage, establishing the shop’s theme.
Not only is the bookstore a place where your soul finds what it’s looking for among the shelves, but it captures the café environment where reading and writing are
Beyond the café, beyond the front desk, is a forest of books. The Writer’s Block offers one of the most eclectic selections to be found. Book lovers can find new releases but also some gems of literature whose appeal may have been neglected by the market, hosting books from the biggest publishing houses and an array of some of the most brilliant independent presses. Almost every conceivable genre can be found, but the bookcases that house The Writer’s Block’s greatest triumph are in the poetry section, where the best poetry selection in the city can be found.
The Writer’s Block—founded by Drew Cohen and Scott Seeleyone in 2014—set out with the ambition to “create an experience and ambiance that is tangible and experiential.” When asked what the store offered Las Vegas beyond a Barnes & Noble experience, Drew mentions the changing nature of the city, its “fast-developing, somewhat transient” nature, where if you weren’t metamorphic you wouldn’t last in memory or demand. The quintessential Las Vegas bookstore is one that adapts to the flickering brilliance of the city and its desires, that can take the pulse of the moment and withstand the whirlwind without its identity being eaten by the breeze.
“Las Vegas isn’t any less cultured than other city, it’s just younger,” says Drew.
In order for literature to become a part of the culture there needed to be a literary institution residents could associate with. Before The Writer’s Block, literary life in the city simply wasn’t seen as a priority. The Writer’s Block offers a way for local writers to connect with readers and for readers to take pride in local writers. Drew hopes that more home-grown talent will be a major contribution that The Writer’s Block makes to the city’s literary scene.
I asked Drew what he thought of The Writer’s Block’s impact on the Las Vegas literary scene.
“Our existence is proof that people in Vegas read, read a lot, and read great books. Even if you’re the sort of person who likes to come to a bookstore by yourself, and browse around, and not attend any literary events, just the para-social association you get from entering a common space like our store can be rejuvenating,” he says.
FINDING ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE
A philosophy professor of mine once made a joke about there being a philosophy conference in Las Vegas. The joke was that the philosophy conference was in Las Vegas, because philosophy can’t exist beneath the neon. That was nearly eight years ago but I’ve brooded on that since. Now I wonder what the role of The Writer’s Block is in relation to that type of sentiment?
It’s that in this arboretum of the soul, you’ll discover the wellspring of Las Vegas literary aspiration. Among the ambient foliage, among the shelves upon shelves of books that call out to be read, where the sun and the smell of coffee capture you, freeing you hours later, totally unaware how much time has passed while you sat reading, talking to the pet rabbit in the children’s section, something magical can happen. You may meet the common reader, or maybe writers plotting novels, or poets working out lines in a poem, all cultivating the true culture of Las Vegas: genius.
In Russia in the early 20th century, there was a place called the Stray Dog Café where writers would frequent and discuss literature, perform poetry, exchange ideas, etc. The time period is captured in a book called “The Stray Dog Cabaret: A Book of Russian Poems” translated by Paul Schmidt. The Writer’s Block is Las Vegas’s Stray Dog Café.
UNVEILING A NEW PAGE OF THE CITY
Las Vegans take excitedly to change, opening their doors to the knock of new cultures eagerly (the Golden Knights, for example), so presented with the opportunity to expand its resume, of course Las Vegas took to becoming a literary city. For the purveyors of The Writer’s Block, that initial ambition of experience has been captured, and they can smile as they think about a more simple dream. Now, Drew is excited about “a time in the not-to-distant future when out-of-towners cease to express surprise that there’s a bookstore in Vegas.”