Mary Gibbons, co-owner of Pilsen Community Books says her store had a bevy of books…
Nay—a surfeit of books…
Strike that—a profound profusion, if not potential plethora of books in storage, doing no one any good just sitting there.
Something had to be done, and that something was to organize the first annual Pilsen Community Books Book Fair at the Co-Prosperity Sphere (3219 S. Morgan St.), happening this weekend, October 5 through 7. The fair promises more than 7,500 used books for sale. Admission is free, and the event offers not only the aforementioned selection of novels, volumes, treatises, and tomes, but also a roster of bands performing Friday and Saturday nights. Likewise, 14 local artists will be on hand to sell literary-themed prints of their work.
Speaking by e-mail, Gibbons promised a weekend of fun, art, music, merriment, and, of course, every bibliophile’s dream—a massive pile of books. I can smell the musty, musky aroma of foxing paper now…
DK: Tell me a little about yourself and Pilsen Community Books.
MG: Aaron, the co-owner, and I met working at Open Books. We were part of their books department, which meant that we collected and sold books online in order to raise money for the organization’s literacy programs. The warehouse we worked at was in Pilsen and, for fun, we set up a little bookstore inside the warehouse. We got such a great response from the community that it had us daydreaming about opening a real store on 18th Street.
Since Open Books wasn’t looking to open another store, we decided to go ahead and try it ourselves. We opened Pilsen Community Books in February 2016. We were inspired by Open Books’ literacy-minded mission and decided to bring a little of that with us through Pilsen Reads, our book giveaway program.
DK: What inspired the creation of the fair?
MG: The idea of the fair started because we have so many books and so little room! We have about 10,000 books in storage that we just don’t have room for in our stores. We’ll be bringing around 8,000 of those to the fair and selling them at heavily reduced prices ($4 per book, or three books for $10). But when we started to think about making the fair a reality, we also realized it could be a great opportunity to do something a little more fun.
We meet so many interesting and talented people in our store, and we’re always looking for ways to share their talent with our audience. When we can, we try and get local artists to make our event posters and postcards, or have local bands play in our store. All those people immediately came to mind when we began planning the book fair.
DK: Historically, has Pilsen or Bridgeport offered a book fair before? What’s the Pilsen literary scene like these days?
MG: No book fairs that I know of! We’ve got lots of published, self-published, and aspiring writers. Tori Telfer just moved, but she lived down the street when her book was published. Joe Allen, Ytasha Womack, and Brielle Brilliant all live in Pilsen. Dmitry Samarov lives in Bridgeport. Those are just a few that come to mind.
Hopefully we’ll see everyone mentioned above in attendance! They’re all great customers of ours and they all have great books. You won’t find their books at the book fair, though—you’ll have to pay full price for those, in-store!
Besides us, Open Books hosts literary events in their warehouse and La Catrina Cafe hosts open mics. I’d say the Pilsen literary scene is definitely growing.
DK: Beyond the location of course, is there anything about the event that especially reflects the neighborhood or that part of Chicago?
MG: Some of the bands that will be performing are from Pilsen and Bridgeport, as well as some of the artists. A lot of the contributors to the book fair are regulars at the bookstore. The shop is where we’ve met most of the artists, designers, and musicians that we work with on a regular basis
DK: Care to provide a rundown of event highlights? Anything you’re personally looking forward to seeing/doing/hearing?
MG: We’re going to have live music by six local bands (and one from New York, who loved the idea of playing at a nontraditional venue) on Friday and Saturday nights. We handpicked them, and they’re all fantastic. Two of the bands—Stephen Paul Smoker and Small Places—have actually performed in our shop. We loved their music, so we had always hoped for some sort of larger event where their fans weren’t squished against the nonfiction section.
We’ve got 14 artists making literary-themed, limited-edition, risograph and screen-printed art prints that will be for sale all three days. I’ve seen sneak peaks of several of the posters and they are so good! From what I’ve seen so far they’ll all be very affordable and totally frameable. I’m pretty excited about that, because we’ve all had opportunities to purchase killer prints representing our favorite bands, but when do we ever get a chance to purchase art celebrating our favorite books?
DK: What are you reading these days?
DK: Will you be looking for any books yourself while running the show?
MG: Ha ha, no! I look for books day and night. I look for books in my sleep. I’ll just be looking at people looking for books.