Grolier Poetry Bookshop
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|Founder||Adrian Gambet and Gordon Cairnie|
Number of locations
|Boston metropolitan area|
The Grolier Poetry Book Shop ("the Grolier") is an independent bookstore on Plympton Street near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. Although founded as a "first edition" bookstore, its focus today is solely poetry. A small (404 sq ft (37.5 m2)), one-room store with towering bookcases, it lays claim to being the "oldest continuous bookshop" devoted solely to the sale of poetry and poetry criticism.
Over the years, the Grolier became a focus of poetic activity in the Cambridge area, which itself had, because of the influence of Harvard University, become a magnet for American poets. It became a point of call for visiting poets as well as a nexus of gossip, rumor and networking in the poetry community. Male poets such as John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Donald Hall, and Frank O'Hara were regulars at the store during their time as undergraduates at Harvard; the poet Conrad Aiken lived upstairs from the store in its early days. Numerous other poets and writers, including Russell Banks, Frank Bidart, William Corbett, E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, David Ferry, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Marianne Moore, Charles Olson, Robert Pinsky, Adrienne Rich, Ruth Stone, James Tate and Franz Wright, have been noted as "friends of the Grolier."
The Grolier Book Shop was founded in September 1927 by Adrian Gambet and Gordon Cairnie; the subsequent owner, Louisa Solano purchased and took over its operation in 1974 after Cairnie's death. The poet-bookseller Arthur Freeman negotiated the sale. The Grolier Book Shop d/b/a became the Grolier Poetry Book Shop, Inc. in 1990. for tax reasons. The original owners being financially comfortable were able to run the business at a loss, to give, not sell, a book or two on occasion, to ignore bills as they piled up, and to turn a blind eye to theft. Much of the activity at the Grolier under Cairnie's management was of the social kind. He held court while his admirers lounged on the red couch under the window, in or on the armchair on the other side of the room, leaned against the shelves, or pushed against the display tables. The shop was rarely empty. Having first entered the shop when she was fifteen, Solano was well familiar with its ways. As she was not independently wealthy, she knew it had to become a self-sustaining business especially if she were to achieve her two goals: to expand the general public's interest in poetry and to honor the diversity of voices. Initially she supported the shop by doing appraisals and by developing a mail order business; she developed innovative ways to promote poetry in the Cambridge community. She introduced an annual undergraduate poetry reading that once incorporated poets from fifteen colleges;, numerous autograph parties that included readings; as the parties grew more crowded, the readings grew separate. The first was held in the Grolier in 1974 with Gary Miranda. In 1983, the Grolier Poetry Prize Annual was first published. Both readings and ANNUAL were now supported by the Ellen La Forge Memorial Poetry Foundation inspired by Jim Henle a friend of the shop and formed in 1983 by Mrs. Jeanne Henle in memory of her sister. It also funded the costs of six poetry festivals. There was also a a basketball and a baseball team organized by the poet Peter Payack. The Shop in its last years under Solano's management was still considered a source for rare or obscure titles or wanting the latest news. It was not unusual for international customers to make stopovers to look over the stock in case there was an unrecognized "treasure". For example, the store was the first in New England to stock Language Magazine, the periodical that launched the avant-garde L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry movement. Over her 31 years in the Shop she has been the recipient of many awards and acknowledgements, one being a Lannan Grant.
Nonetheless, in 2004 Solano announced that, because of poor health and an ever decreasing amount of sales, the Grolier had to be sold. The causes of the shop's decline were endemic to the bookselling world: the ever-expanding reach of the internet, inventory management, and the encroachment of the chains. In March 2006 The store was sold to Nigerian poet Ifeanyi Menkiti, a professor at Wellesley College. In September 2012, the Grolier Poetry Book Shop celebrated its 85th anniversary, a celebration that continued until September 2013. Owner Menkiti also created the nonprofit Grolier Poetry Foundation to help support the store, as well as local poetry initiatives.
Gordon Cairnie. Photo by Elsa Dorfman.
Louisa Solano, owner of the store from 1974 to 2006, and Pumpkin. Portrait taken in 1984 by Elsa Dorfman.
- Poets & Writers Newsletter April-May 1980 Brady, Kathleen
- Paulson, Amanda. "400 square feet of poetic punch: The Grolier Poetry Book Shop celebrates 75 years of legendary patrons, collegial readings, and just plain survival," Christian Science Monitor (October 17, 2002).
- "American Poetry Landmarks- Poets.org - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More". Poets.org. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
- "de beste bron van informatie over webarchiv". circlemagazine.com. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
- Provost, Claire. "Grolier Book Shop To Close," Harvard Crimson (March 16, 2004).
- Rosen, Judith. "Grolier Poetry Book Shop Goes Nonprofit Route: Owner Ifeanyi Menkiti tries new model to ensure store’s future," Publishers Weekly (June 22, 2012).