Stephen King once described books as “one-of-a-kind portable magic” and the REO Town Book Party hopes to fully support that notion this Saturday.
Premier Literary Rendezvous is a diverse, neighborhood-wide block party with a simple mission: to shine a light on local authors, poets and booksellers through a series of festive attractions. On the program, a pop-up market, a tour of independent bookstores throughout the city and a poetry workshop, to name a few.
Along South Washington Avenue, attendees will likely see dozens of paperbacks hidden under the arms of local bookworms. It’s an encouraging visual that organizer Dylan Rogers will be delighted to see in his booming neighborhood.
As co-owner of the Robin Theater in REO Town, Rogers also operates The Robin Books, a small shop in the theater at 1105 S. Washington Ave. Rogers said he initially brainstormed the concept for the party with Lansing Poet Laureate Masaki Takahashi. From there, it gradually took shape.
“Masaki and I have long talked about doing a neighborhood poetry festival,” Rogers said. “With the boost of having three small bookstores” in the town of REO, “some iteration of this event was a long time coming.”
Across the street from The Robin Books is Deadtime Stories: True Crime and Other Books, 1132 S Washington. Just up the street, book lovers can browse Wayfaring Booksellers, a shop inside the REO Town Marketplace, 1027 S Washington Ave.
“It’s kind of a unique, awesome thing,” Rogers said. “We have three independent and very different bookstores on the same block.”
But the growth is not contained in one area. Despite Amazon, Lansing has become a hub for independent retail stores. Other Lansing-based participating stores are A Novel Concept, 222 S. Washington Sq., Socialight Society, 5454 W. Saginaw Highway, Everybody Reads, 2019 E. Michigan Ave., and The Resistance, 515 W. Ionia St. orient.
“Last year, seven independent bookstores opened during the pandemic era in Lansing,” Rogers said. “I wanted to make sure we made it an inclusive event that sheds some light on that.”
The peak of the pandemic has hit hard for The Robin, a performance theater reliant on in-person ticket sales. Like other venues, it was closed for an extended period. He was appalled. However, in September 2021, the entrepreneur called an audible and opened Robin Books.
“I built the shelves and acquired a bunch of inventory,” he said. The store is open on Fridays and Saturdays, and hours will be expanded later this year, he said.
Now that the Robin Theater is back to hosting weekly live events, the space now doubles as a venue and a small bookstore.
“When we have shows, the curtains open and the library carts roll backwards,” Rogers said. “We’re turning into a listening room space pretty quickly.”
And with the Poet Laureate involved in its planning, it’s no surprise that the party also focuses on poetry. Siaara Freeman, recipient of the Cleveland Public Theater’s 2021 Inaugural Playwright, hosts a workshop and showcase from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. at The Robin.
“I admire his work so much and I’m so excited to be able to bring it to the city,” said Takahashi, who curated the poetry side. He said Freeman would help attendees, limited to 25 people, create poetry with a fun Halloween twist. Later that evening, Freeman hosts a 5 to 7 poetry showcase, featuring openers Takahashi, Rose Cooper, Justin Tokarski, Korey Deans, Clair Donohoe, Ryler Dustin, and Great Dane.
Takahashi said leading a party like this is just one of the many endeavors he is working on as the region’s Poet Laureate.
“It’s one of my projects – to share my love of books,” Takahashi said. “Books have always been an escape for me, and writing has been cathartic. I wanted to celebrate this medium with people.
He also hopes future iterations of the REO Town Book Party can help address Lansing’s literacy struggles. “That’s something I hope to change as well,” he said.
Speaking of community impact, Rogers said he also hopes to expand the party’s reach further. The use of the “it takes a village” method has already proven successful.
“My hope for this project has been, from the start, to create something that delegates facets of the event to people who are good at what they do,” Rogers said. “We have a bunch of cool people, whether they’re booksellers, poets, authors or other small business owners.”
One such small business owner is Amy McMeeken of Vintage Junkies, (1133 S. Washington). McMeeken, who organizes the pop-up vendors’ market on the sidewalks of southern Washington, said more vendors are signing up daily.
“We currently have a few artist builders repurposing discarded books and other ephemera with many local authors,” said McMeeken, who said she’ll be unveiling her holiday stock early in her showcase for revelers.
Having business owners like McMeeken on board, Rogers said, has already proven to be a new model for hosting a free public festival. It’s a system he plans to pursue for several reasons.
“I tried to think about how we plan events in the neighborhood and how they might serve neighborhood businesses that also exist here,” he said. “These people are here every day – whether there’s a block party or not.”
With business access in mind, the party will not close the street or make it difficult to park in REO Town. If all goes according to plan, Rogers said the setup will amplify, not block, what the neighborhood offers on non-festival days.
“There’s a lot going on here on a daily basis that I think a lot of people are still not aware of,” said Rogers, who added that on the same busy day as their evening, Festival of the Macabre is taking place at REO Town. Marketplace. . “When we have a few thousand people in the neighborhood on a big festival day, we see an increase in foot traffic to local businesses, but maybe not as much as you think.
“Often barricades try to keep people in the festival area,” he explained. “If the event looks like a good day in the neighborhood, then I think our mission was successful.”
For more information on the book festival, Click here.