Discover why bookstores are an inspiration for writers
Stuart Brent Books was a magical bookstore on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, owned and managed by the strange and wonderful Stuart Brent. Unfortunately, both are gone now, but a week doesn’t go by that. I don’t wish I could go back.
Looking back, working part-time at Stuart Brent Books was one of the most amazing experiences to open the world of books and writing. At the time I was a full-time United Airlines Stewardess and part-time at Stuart Brents. I remember who he’d tell us to feel the books. The meaning for him was more profound than just handling the paper and the cover. I think his feeling meant understanding the messages of the words inside the bodies.
An independent bookseller in Chicago for 50 years, Stuart opened his first bookstore in 1947. He closed Stuart Brent Books on Michigan Avenue in 1996, retiring to a farm in Wisconsin and passing away in 2010 at 98.
The store was a wonderland of literary delights. Upstairs was filled with highbrow and prestigious hardcovers. At the same time, the basement housed a small children’s section and a carefully curated selection of paperbacks that ignored all bestseller lists.
You could peruse your authors from A to Z at Stuart Brent Books, confident that all the books were worth your time. Unfortunately, often the text of the moment wasn’t available there at all. Popular books that didn’t earn the stamp of merit from Stuart weren’t allowed.
Stuart, his passion for books, and the bookstore he created had quite an impact on those who knew him, described as such:
“He was a cross between a Chicago intellectual and Persian rug dealer.” -Phillip Roth.
“Not merely a merchant but literature‘s self-appointed local guardian” – Chicago Tribune
And in the words of another Chicago celebrity, irreverent newspaper columnist Mike Royko, high praise indeed: “As bookstores go, it is a classy joint.”
But to me, the most telling quote about Stuart is from Stuart himself, as he prepared to close the bookstore once and for all: “I’ve done a hell of a job. I kept literature alive in Chicago for 50 years, so I know I did it.”
Stuart Brent was short in stature but larger than life. He was a character in all the best ways. Mr. Brent once drunkenly tried to break down the front wall of his storefront to bring in a grand piano for Louis Armstrong, only to be arrested for his trouble. He hobnobbed with the literary elite, friends with writers Studs Terkel, Saul Bellow, and Nelson Algren, but also with customers like Zero Mostel and Don Ameche.
More about Stuart Brent
Stuart Brent’s book
The Seven Stairs is Stuart Brent’s exuberant memoir that reveals the strategies and beliefs that made him one of the nation’s most colorful and revered independent booksellers.
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