When cultural cornerstone Bienville Books (109 Dauphin St.) went on the block this spring, trepidation rippled across eastern Mobile. Its community role was cherished, its survival a barometer of artistic health and general community spirit. Who would save it?
Have no fear. Family tradition is here!
“I should have the keys in July and start rearranging stuff,” new owner Angela Trigg said.
A store employee since 2011, Trigg is perfectly fit there. She’s a fixture in the local literary community, a USA Today bestselling author and has won some of the biggest national awards for novels under her pen name, Angela Quarles.
More atavistic, Trigg’s grandmother, Adelaide Marston Trigg, was co-founder of fabled Mobile institution The Haunted Bookshop. After the shop’s April 1941 launch, it became a nexus of literary tradition in an Azalea City reshaped by World War II.
“My grandmother had notes about a guy who timed how fast he could get to the bookstore from Brookley [Air Base]. As soon as he landed, he hightailed it to The Haunted Bookshop. There were also tales about a Russian sailor that used to come and sleep on the couch,” Trigg said.
Originally in the Girard-Rapier Double House on Conception, she said the store shortly moved to the LaClede Hotel, then to its longtime St. Francis Street locale, near today’s Firehouse Wine Bar. It was where such literary luminaries as Thomas Mann, William March or Eugene Walter could be found before it finally closed in 1991.
“William Faulkner’s brother John was there once and some customer or someone came up as John was looking over one of William’s books and said, ‘Well, you know his brother is actually a better writer.’ They didn’t realize they were talking to the same man they were praising,” Trigg laughed.
Now the bookstore — within sight of the city’s civic heart, Bienville Square — will carry a legendary name into a new millennium seeking an old reputation. Trigg’s overriding goal is to build “a symbiotic relationship with local and original authors.”
She wants to add writing workshops and lectures to its schedule. They’ll range from one- to multi-week workshops.
Book signings will return, with multi-author events most common. Anyone with a book released within the last 30 days is welcome to participate.
The shop will feature live readings during the monthly LoDa Artwalks. The open mic-style events will be limited to 10 minutes for each author or poet.
Consignment programs will launch for independent writers. Genre chats featuring panels of experienced authors will be held quarterly or monthly.
Trigg mentioned pursuit of a liquor license to hold cocktail-centric affairs patterned after Mobile’s tipsy heart.
“We could have, like, Hemingway night and mix drinks reminiscent of him and Key West maybe. Or Italian wines … paired with ‘Under the Tuscan Sun,’” Trigg said.
Perhaps the most notable change is a writer-in-residence program. The idea stemmed from a request by author Watt Key for a workspace in the days before he acquired an office downtown.
On the bookstore’s staircase, there’s a 10-foot-by-10-foot room halfway up, between the first and second floors — akin to “Being John Malkovich,” “but not as low ceilings,” Trigg laughed.
The cubbyhole office will have shelves of research-friendly books on hand. The other portion will hold a desk, printer and Keurig coffee maker.
The second floor will get a makeover, utilizing now-empty space and adding taller bookshelves. It will become the spot for book signings and lectures.
Downstairs will be rearranged, making room for selling locally made items that are book themed. She also threw out ideas about featuring local business owners with their favorite works in the front windows, maybe working with the Crescent Theater to highlight books that tie in with their films.
“I’ve been brainstorming, fantasizing, writing down ideas for years because I’ve always wanted to have my own bookstore like my grandmother,” Trigg said.
She wants it to become a launch point for tours of Mobile. Walking tours of downtown, such as the Mardi Gras Trail or the African-American Heritage Trail, would seem ideal. Of course, she’s mentioned ghost tours in October because it goes with the name.
A website with more information should be active soon.
“I have friends on The New York Times bestseller list who want to know when it’s open because they all want to come, so it will be exciting. I think Mobile has a lot of talent here locally and regionally, so I think having a writer-focused bookstore is a good idea,” Trigg said.