December 14, 2011

Louise Erdrich's Birchbark Books

An article on a well-known bookstore in Indian country:

Shelf-Promotion:  Famed Novelist Louise Erdrich’s Bookstore Stocks Great Native Books

By Stephanie WoodardI confess: I love Ojibwe novelist Louise Erdrich’s Minneapolis shop, Birchbark Books, and you can, too. In fact, you can admit to anything you want there, in an honest-to-God confessional Erdrich rescued from a bar and set up in one corner of her multilevel bookstore. You can find Birchbark Books in a tiny strip of stores in a leafy neighborhood, along with Bockley Gallery, which often exhibits Native artists.

The cozy store offers lots of spots where shoppers can enjoy a rich array of images and experiences. Kids can climb into a toy-filled, tree house–like loft, while adults curl up and read in sunny corners. If you want absolution for anything, take a seat in the confessional, which Erdrich has renamed “the forgiveness booth.”

“You can be absolved right away there without having to say thousands of Hail Marys,” she says. “It’s about taking away shame. Of course, it’s the Catholic Church that most needs to be forgiven for what it did to Native people in the name of assimilation.”
And:Atop one bookcase are red-willow baskets by Georgianna Houle and by Curtis and Debi LaRoque, all from Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, Erdrich’s home community. Alongside them are containers by Pat and Gage Kruse, a father and son from Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, who use birch bark for the vessels you’ll find at Birchbark Books, as well as for detailed bark paintings represented by Bockley Gallery. Star quilts hang from the bookshop’s rafters, and silver pieces by jewelers Mitchell Zephier, Lakota, and Josef Reiter, Anishinaabe, gleam in a glass-fronted case. Look for Reiter’s reproductions of Erdrich’s lucky feather earrings; when you wear them, she claims, wondrous things occur.

The store attracts clients from the Minneapolis Native community, reservations across the country and tourists from all over the globe. “They are attracted by Louise’s reputation,” says store manager Susan White. “She is truly beloved.” Customers know they will find books that are tasteful and accurate, White adds. They might even run into the novelist at the store, though Erdrich says her schedule is “unpredictable.”

The store specializes in Native writers and subjects in several categories: fiction and poetry; memoir and biography; Native studies; indigenous-language books and instructional materials primarily in Dakota, Lakota and Ojibwe; picture books for children; and young-adult volumes. It’s a small selection, tucked into every nook and cranny of the 850-square-foot store, but a fine one. “People come here to feel there’s a person behind what’s on our shelves,” says Erdrich. The store’s book buyer, Nathan Pederson, explains that deciding what to offer is a “happy science.” He sifts through data, figuring out what’s selling, but also trying to ensure that customers will come across items they never knew they needed.
Comment:  For more on Louise Erdrich, see Louise Erdrich Wants PEACE PARTY and Minnesota's Native Literary Community.


Anonymous said...

It is a good place. I've always said that the smaller stores have things a Walmart or (in this case) a Waldenbooks won't. Such as, well, employees who actually know something about what the store sells.

dmarks said...

Usually though they have much worse customer service in other ways. Referring to how the smaller stores refuse to serve customers a lot more than Walmart, Target, etc.

I've had times when I needed to get something, and the smaller stores had unfriendly CLOSED signs, and would not be open for hours later. So I pop over to Walmart, which actually wants my business and is open, and get what I need.

Rob said...

For more on the trouble with bookstores in general, see:

Don’t Support Your Local Bookseller

Buying books on Amazon is better for authors, better for the economy, and better for you.

Independent Bookstores Are Not Doomed

Here’s how they can fight back against Amazon.