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St. Mark’s Bookshop
When I first moved to New York in 1986, I had a vision of the Village as teaming with artists and poets, a brawling, burning place where you could get in fistfights over aesthetics. I moved here with $150 to my name, no connections of any kind, but with a vague dream of doing something literary, maybe even starting a literary magazine. While Alan Ginsberg and Patti Smith still stomped the territory, the Tompkins Square riots and the NYUification of the East Village wiped away much of the grittier elements. A bulwark against the chains, St. Mark’s Bookshop was my constant intellectual touchstone. Just inside the door, to the left, I went right for the latest paperback releases, the ones touted in the VLS (RIP), but also the samizdat zines and literary magazines like the seminal Between C and D, which was printed on dot matrix paper and sold in Ziplocs, like the ubiquitous crack of the time. Past the front table of art books and cultural theory assaults like (Re)Search and Semiotext, I’d invariably head to the back for the sales books, poetry, and finally to their large, varied, and brave selection of literary magazines. Here was where it was at. Here was my Alexandria, my education in the moment. I would eat Top Ramen seven days a week in order to get a fix at St. Marks.
In the Spring of 1998, I took five copies of Tin House, just off the presses, to St. Marks. “Looks cool,” they said. “We’ll carry it.” St. Marks became the very first store, anywhere, to carry Tin House. For the first four issues, until we found a distributor, I carried several boxes to the store by hand, and they consistently sold more copies than any other store. One time they called me up and said, “Do you know Molly Ringwald?”
“Um, not really,” I replied. “Why?”
“She just came in and bought the last twenty copies. Can you bring us some more?” (We wound up getting to the bottom of why Molly Ringwald wanted twenty copies of Tin House, but that is another story.)
St. Marks is still a touchstone for me. It is my reality check, a place to be provoked and surprised. I can’t imagine New York City without it.
St. Marks needs our help. Because of gentrification, rents in the area have become unsustainable for most independent businesses. The landlord is Cooper Union, and they are being asked to cut this vital cultural institution a break on rent. Please sign the petition.