Christopher P. Stephens, Bookman

Chris Stephens has been a book dealer since 1965 - earlier if you count childhood buying and selling.

Stephens has sold major collections to university libraries all over the world. He has operated appealing bookstores in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, Hastings on Hudson, NY and several in NYC, NY. He is a wholesale dealer to other bookstores all over the world.

Chris loves books.

Stephens now maintains a lively internet operation out of his new home in Scranton, PA.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodnight riverrun

It's been a very good day, good year, good decade and more. Enticing prospects lie ahead for riverrun. Stay tuned to this station.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Books beneath the Tree

Just what everyone wants most.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Shel Silverstein thanks FAS

Shel Silverstein spent time in riverrun. He came up to the house too. He was comfortable with Frank Scioscia.

Silverstein signed lots of books to Frank. This - Now here's my Plan - has one of Chris Stephens all-time favorite cartoons on the cover.

google images for Shel Silverstein
song writer legacy recordings
famous poets and

Monday, December 21, 2009

reading at riverrun

November 1988

Michael and Isabel Stephens at riverrun

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ralph Fasanella, Artist

Ralph Fasanella used to enjoy hanging around riverrun and chatting with Frank Scioscia. The men were both sons of Italian immigrants. Both were sympathetic to unions and mistrustful of management. Fasanella was as tickled as Scioscia that riverrun bookstore was in the old Anaconda union hall.
Fasanella died a few years after Scioscia did but, in a way, they're both still there. Even now there's a New York Times article about Fasanella pinned up on the bookshelf, just where Scioscia put it some years ago.
Chris Stephens found some Fasanella posters for sale shortly after he took over the bookstore. He liked them. He bought them all. Ralph was happy to sign each of the posters over relaxed, pleasant conversation with Chris.

Ralph was still coming into the store to talk art, talk books, talk politics, talk unions, talk memories.

Fasanella art images
NY Times article on Fasanella
Art work for sale on artnet

Monday, December 14, 2009

River View

The Anaconda Copper Company operated on the Hudson River.

During WWII machine guns were mounted on the factory rooftops to deter enemy ships from sneaking up-river to West Point.

In the 1960s, management responded to a local wildcat strike by closing down the Hastings on Hudson plant. The machinery was quiet. The buildings were empty.

riverrun has connections to Anaconda. The bookstore is housed in the old union hall. One can almost hear echoes of rousing speeches mixed in with the voices of all the books here.

Steve Kanfer made a beautiful decoupage-topped table for riverrun out of one of the giant wooden spools Anaconda used for copper wire. That table is still here.

For a few years Chris Stephens warehoused books in a section of one of the old Anaconda buildings. We had to bring cartons of books upstairs in a huge freight elevator. Not everyone likes elevators. I don't. This one was slow and it creaked and finally the lights went out. We had to take books up and down in a scary elevator in the dark.

For decades toxic residue from copper smelting and the mostly empty buildings were a blight on this otherwise charming town. Abandoned Anaconda blocked the river view from Washington Ave.

Now that's all changed. Come to the bookstore. See the river.

Hastings Historical Society article on Anaconda Copper Company

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Marian Ferrer - Poet and Potter

Marian Ferrer's pottery shop is lively and welcoming.
Shelves are filled with interesting and useful shapes in appealing earth tones. "That's what I like best for pottery," Marian tells a fellow potter. "I use red clay. I always have. And I like rich greens and browns over that dark clay." The pots are beautiful. I particularly like a huge one with an abstract leaf pattern.

Ferrer's two books are displayed in a corner. Blue Sapphire is poetry. Allow the Possibility is a mixture of memoir, essay on artistic exploration, and philosophy of life. Ferrer appreciates the importance of laughter to the process of creativity.

Marian Ferrer's bright and joyful paintings are on the wall and leaning against one another on the floor. Her creative expression on canvas contrasts with her expressions in clay.

"In painting, I prefer vibrant colors against the white background. Painting feels different than handling clay and my response to it is different too.

"I first started making pottery in my early 20s. I was working at American Field Service and, at the time, just wanted some interesting activity after work. I have been a potter ever since."

Marian teaches classes at her pottery studio. "I always learn from my students. I like seeing them work out projects from their own perspectives. It's fascinating. My students have so much creativity!"

Marian's students, as well as Marian's customers, are friends. A man came in who had worked at Lame Duck Bookstore in Philadelphia. Marian and the man from Lame Duck and I and an enthusiastic young potter who'd come in with me all chatted comfortably in Marian's studio/store.

There are some clay "rocks" in the window. The two potters talk about what a natural it is for potters to make "rocks". "The clay is from the earth," says Marian. "You bring out, shape it with your hands, leave your mark on it, and give it back to the earth. I've been making clay rocks almost as long as I've been working with clay.
"They're worked from the inside out. They're hollow. And that isn't glaze on them. That is oil paint and then they're waxed. I write on them. I made a whole lot of rocks that said 'Peace'. I tuck them into likely places in NYC. I took a whole lot of peace rocks to Israel too. I just lay them down for someone else to pick up. Sometimes I write 'joy' on them.
I feel grounded when I make the peace rocks. I like to leave them around for strangers to pick up and handle and read. All those suggestions of peace."

Marian Ferrer's work is in galleries. She's had many exhibitions. And her peace rocks are lying on the ground all over the world. Look for one.

Dobbs Ferry Pottery - 86 Main Street, Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522 - 914 674 8203

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cold Day - Warm Anticipation

Chris Stephens bought boxes of fascinating books from a local Nobel Laureate. He's been in his element sorting through the books back in riverrun.

There was also an intriguing collection of Oceanic art in the Laureate's house. Chris read up on Oceanic art. (Reading up on various subjects is Stephens' second-favorite part of the bookstore business.)

He invited two colleagues to come back to the house with him and look through the art. Anticipation ran high.

Awake Again After Long Slumber

This first-in-a-long-time entry is dedicated to Lenny and Judy. Here's why. Lenny called Chris to ask why the heck I hadn't posted anything since October. And why the heck haven't I? It's a good question without a reasonable answer.

But the doors to the riverrun blog are wide open again

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Conversation With Paul Golden

Paul came by the bookstore today. He told some lively anecdotes. Wyatt Day happened in also. He, Chris, and Paul chatted animatedly. I enjoyed being a fly on the wall. I'll share what they said as soon as Golden has had a chance to read it first.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Family Business - 4th Generation

Forrest and Andrea work at riverrun when they have time. They are the original proprietor's great grandchildren. There are 5 great grandchildren. Lia might walk down the hill and work when she's a little older. Holly and Bilbo live in England. They'd come in and help wrap packages if they were 3000 miles closer.
Frank and Mary's great grandchildren are all readers.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bocce in the Window

Marian Ferrer opened her pottery studio/shop in Dobbs Ferry a couple of years before Frank Scioscia opened his pre-riverrun bookstore. The Dobbs Ferry Bookstore was less than a block from Dobbs Ferry Pottery. The proprietors became friends.
There was a nice bocce court down the hill from both shops. Frank Scioscia was an enthusiastic player. He had been since childhood.
Marian fashioned some bocce players from clay. She gave them to Frank. They've been at riverrun ever since.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bits of Conversation with Sol Stein - publisher Stein and Day

Sol Stein came into riverrun with a whole string of compliments for Frank Scioscia and riverrun.

A whole string of compliments is also appropriate for Stein himself.

He told me tantalizing bits of lots of stories. He told of Stein and Day, where he was publisher and editor-in-chief for almost 30 years. He talked about WWII, where Stein was an insider - even winning a bet with Dwight D. Eisenhower. He told stories of authors and great book collections. He talked about political leaders and about his grandchildren.
Unfortunately time was short. He promised more details at the next visit. I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ultramarine Disch

Tom Disch was an interesting conversationalist as well as an interesting writer. Chris Stephens especially enjoyed talking with Tom. "He was lively. He was ready to discuss any subject. He knew lots and you never knew what line he was going to take," said Chris.
Back when I was young, I was slightly intimidated by Disch's intellectual intensity. I was more comfortable with the gentler soul of Charles Naylor.
Disch and Naylor had what was essentially a long and happy marriage, just like Chris and I have. Unlike Chris and I though, their partnership was unrecognized legally and spousal benefits accrued to neither. For instance, during all those years that Naylor taught in the public school system, Disch was not covered under Naylor's medical benefits. Later, when Naylor died first, Disch had no legal rights to stay in the rent-controlled apartment he'd lived in for years with Charles. This is a societal injustice. It could be easily remedied.

Disch's book, M.D.: A Horror Story, is one of the Ultramarine Press limited editions signed by Thomas Disch. It came out in 1991, simultaneously with the Knopf first trade edition. Denis Gouey bound the limitation. There were 12 beautiful full leather copies and 38 half leather with marble boards.

In the early 1980s Ultramarine Press put Neighboring Lives, by Tom Disch and Charles Naylor, in print. Chris Stephens had purchased the entire remaining stock from Scribners.

Amazon customer reviews of The M.D. Horror Story

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tom Disch - Poet & Writer

In the 1970s Tom Disch lived on Union Square in Manhattan with Charles Naylor. There were books in most of the rooms and long metal shelves filled with boxes of books all the way down the long hall.

One time they were looking through books, Chris noticed a paperback by Victor Hastings packed in with copies of Disch's books. Chris picked it up. "Tom," he said. "Did you write this one?" Disch abashedly 'fessed up.

Another time Disch volunteered the history of how The House That Fear Built came to be.

Someone from Paperback Library, probably Hy Steirman, called Disch.
Quick, Tom, I need a Gothic mystery by Friday.
I don't know Gothic mysteries, Tom said, I've never written anything like that.
You're a writer aren't you. If you're a writer you can write and I need you to write me a Gothic mystery by Friday. I'm paying $300.

This exchange took place when $300 would cover a couple of rents and then some. Besides, Tom Disch relished a challenge. He accepted the commission. In the 1960s Disch was living with John Sladek. John watched Tom write through Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. On Wednesday Tom bogged down. He was totally blocked. He couldn't move the plot forward.

Give it to me, said John. Why don't I write on it for a little while? So they passed it back and forth and finished it by Friday. It was published under a Paperback Library house name, Cassandra Knye, but it was really a couple of guys taking turns at it writing through a week.

Hy Steirman was right though. Tom Disch was a writer. He could write. He settled into science fiction and later horror. He also wrote mainstream fiction, criticism, and of course he wrote poetry.
Above all, Tom Disch was a poet. He kept a 3x5 card with details of every poetry publication. There were thousands of them.
Once when I was teaching English to a bunch of hoodlums, I found a Tom Disch poem reprinted in their literature textbook. I told my students that the poet lived around the corner and that he was a big, strong fellow with tattoos, who would snarl most menacingly - and worse - if annoyed. The description was so much counter to their impression of poets that Disch got their attention. They listened to the poem with interest.

Many people read Tom Disch with interest. His poetry, stories, novels and criticism have a forcefully provocative edge that keeps that interest keen.

Thomas Michel Disch 1940 - 2008

Tom Disch's live journal
Dana Gioia remembers Tom Disch

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Conversation With Patricia Lowy - Graphic Designer & Artist

"I started working at William Morrow as a production assistant. Every week I had to type up a production report. And I didn't really know how to type. I was supposed to file all this stuff - manuscripts, cover art, production galleys, bound galleys, individual pages.
"It was totally boring but I had to support myself while I was in school."
Where was she going to school?
"Pratt had a special graduate program in graphic design. All the teachers were professionals in the field, so the courses were conducted in the evenings and weekends. It sounded great but many of these professionals had considerably more talent as artists than as teachers.
"There are professional artists that are also good teachers. They're rare. Milton Glaser is one example. I took a course from him at School of Visual Arts. He's an amazing graphic designer and he's an amazing teacher. A really great teacher. The Pratt program didn't have teachers like that.
"A better opportunity to learn came my way. Cynthia Basil, art director of Morrow Junior Books, took me on. I became her assistant and she taught me everything. She was great.
"Cynthia was quite a character. She chain-smoked Camels. She collected toys - all these old tin toys with moving parts. Her apartment was full of them. She never married. In a way, she never grew up. Maybe you need that Peter Pan characteristic to excel in junior books.
"In publishing, at that time anyway, you had to change publishers to get much of a salary increase. I moved to E.P. Dutton. Riki Levinson was a very talented art director at Dutton. Later I went Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. There I designed for adult as well as children's books."

What does designing books without illustrations entail?

"The designer makes decisions about the title page, the chapter openings, the whole way a book looks. The layouts are designed in pencil on tissue paper. Everything is ruled carefully. There weren't computers at this time. All work was long hand.
"In the 1970s and 80s publishers spent a lot of money getting type set. Now that's done more easily on computers. It's a big change. Then they hired retouchers. Now they use photo shop."

Patricia moved to McGraw Hill where she was the design supervisor. She worked on text books, which required quite a bit of design attention. "I earned more money but the work was dry.
"I left and became a free lance design consultant. Much more fun. My studio was above Shakespeare & Company. It was a convenient location. Dan and I lived nearby. Every publisher I'd worked for gave me work.
"One project was for William Morrow. I was designing a book by Charles Silverstein. My 5th grade teacher was named Charles Silverstein. He was a great teacher - memorable because you have so few really great teachers as you grow up. I wondered if it was the same person. It was! I telephoned. He wasn't phased in the least - he was thrilled to hear from one of his former 5th graders. He'd left teaching. He'd become a psychologist and had written several books, one of which I designed."

Patricia Lowy closed down her studio and her consultancy to devote more time to her sons. She remains a graphic designer and artist. Often her artwork blends unexpected combinations of paper and subject matter, or of emotional impact and technique. Some are drawn from an unusual physical perspective. All, even the ones of inanimate objects, burst off the page with bold vitality.
I especially admire her charcoal drawing that's behind Lowy in the photos. The decorative floral pattern, sort of like wallpaper, is a soothing screen you see at first glance. At second glance you see the body bags.

Patricia Lowy is always interesting to talk with. I might have badgered her too relentlessly for this particular conversation about her work in publishing. I appreciate this conversation though. I appreciate all of them.

NYTimes article by Vivien Raynor - Ms Raynor has a keen sense of self-importance but as an art critic she still has a distance to go. read paragraphs 5 and 6

Saturday, August 29, 2009

William Faulkner

William Faulkner first fell in love with Estelle when they were in high school. What with one thing and another, she married some other guy. Her parents felt quite strongly that this other guy had a more promising future than Faulkner (or Falkner as it was spelled at the time).
The parents might have misjudged. Estelle's first marriage didn't work out well. She divorced the other guy and Faulkner got to marry her after all. It's a romantic story.
William and Estelle look good in this photo, striding confidently into their future together.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Conversation with Dominique Bohr - Editor, Book Dealer

"Nothing changed my life more than computers," says Dominique Bohr. "With a computer and the internet, you are plugged into the world's greatest library - that is the best thing."
When Dom's son was in second grade, he wrote report on his father. "My father," Benji wrote "is mainly interested in knowledge."
"That's right," says Dom. "Anything. It doesn't even have to have any relevance to my life.
"When I was young, I worked, following knowledge, for Elsevier Publishing Company. Elsevier put out a good Dutch language encyclopedia. It's widely read in The Netherlands. Sixty or seventy percent of Dutch households would have that encyclopedia on their bookshelves at home.
"I was one of about 10 editors revising the encyclopedia. Elsevier had very strict rules about the format for the articles and how to handle issues like country of origin. You know, in Europe people are always being born in countries that don't exist anymore.
"My responsibilities were to research and revise entries at the end of G and all of H. That included gravity. We had a renowned physicist writing an entirely new article on gravity but I knew a little physics myself. Not much, but I was young enough to be really arrogant. As editor, I was basically proof reading the physicist's article. Somewhere though - probably in my science fiction reading - I thought I'd heard about something called a graviton. I wrote to the renowned physicist. I said 'your article is pretty good but why didn't you mention anything about gravitons?' "
Dom laughed heartily. He couldn't get over the fact that a kid who reads science fiction was given the editorial authority to challenge a mature scholar who has devoted his life to physics. Did the physicist respond?
"Yes," exclaimed Dom. "He apologized! He added a bit about gravitons to the encyclopedia article!"

Dom did plenty of other interesting things following, accumulating, and organizing knowledge. Now he's a book dealer. He says he was headed for that pleasure from the earliest times.
"In The Netherlands family and friends often give money for birthdays and other occasions. When I was seven or eight years old, I measured that money in pocket book buying power. One pocket book cost 25 gulden. That was my measure.

"The quantity of money that could purchase of one book was my basic unit of currency."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chris' Attitude About Book Ownership, in a nutshell

"If you've read every book you have, then you don't have enough books."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Baskets and Books

The woman who brought in these baskets had other things too. These baskets were woven in Ecuador near the border with Bolivia. Her brother spent years there as an anthropologist.
She first came into riverrun with the baskets. Chris liked them.
"What else do you have?" Chris asked her.
"Oh, I don't think anything else you'd want."
"Do you have an attic at home?"
"No. No attic. Although there is a barn. There's a loft in the barn. My great uncle brought big trunk from Finland in 1905. That trunk's in that loft"
A trunk in a loft in a barn sounded great to Chris. As it turned out the things from Finland were long gone but other treasures were tucked in the trunk. There were 20th century postcards and old toys and clothing from the 1930s. Mice had made nests of the clothes, but left the postcards and toys intact. Chris was delighted.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ernest Hemingway

A story about Ernest Hemingway made a big impression on me. It may not be a true story, but maybe it doesn't matter whether or not it's true.
In the story, Hemingway is working as a journalist in Europe. He writes fiction on the side but it hasn't been published. E.H. brings a couple of promising stories to an agent or a publisher, in Paris I think. The agent or publisher LOVES the stories. He's crazy about them. He finds out Hemingway has more at home.
"More manuscripts? Like these? You're kidding!" say the agent or publisher.
"Boxes full," says Hemingway.
"By god, Man, can you get them to me right away? Jumping Jehosophat! I need to see everything you have. I'll publish it all! This stuff is dynamite!"
Hemingway was understandably eager to accommodate the guy. He called his wife, one of the early ones, and told her to pack up all of his writing. "Bring everything," he told her. "Put all my stories into a suitcase, that big one. Bring it to me here. Yes! Now. Get the train to Paris." He spoke too loudly because he was so nearly overcome. Then his voice dropped. "This is the Big Break," he told her.
Whichever wife it was, probably Elizabeth, obediently gathered up everything. Drafts. Masterpieces. Copies. Discards. She put every single thing Ernest had written into a satchel. She boarded the train with satchel in tow, got off the train in Paris and hurried to the office where the men were eagerly waiting.
No manuscripts. In all the excitement she'd forgotten the satchel on the train.
That satchel was never recovered. All was lost.
Later Hemingway divorced that woman. If the story is true, then no wonder.
The part that impresses me is this: Ernest Hemingway continued to write after the disaster. He didn't yield to discouragement. He kept on writing.

links to Ernest Hemingway material
Still Images of Ernest Hemingway
videos of E.H.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Conversation with Amlin Gray, Playwright and Dramaturg

“A dramaturg oversees the literary integrity of the play,” Amlin Gray told me. “Dramaturgs do historical research to place the lines of the play in context. They do more than that. They make adaptations to the play. Often they are translators.

"As a dramaturg, I do a lot of translation and adaptation as well as historical and literary research.”
I’d never heard of a dramaturg. Amlin Gray opened a window to behind the scenes at the theater. I wondered if the research was mostly to help costume designers.
“No,” he said. “ Or partly. Costume and scene designers are usually very good researchers on their own. Primarily though, a dramaturg assists the actors and the director with background material, context, and literary flow”.

As a dramaturg, it helps to have experience as a playwright. Amlin Gray is a playwright. He downplayed it in our conversation, not even mentioning that he’d won the prestigious Obie Award for exceptional achievement. He won that award for his play, How I Got That Story, about a war correspondent in Vietnam.
Gray did talk some about his plays when we chatted about Joyce Carol Oates.

“She’s amazing,” said Gray. “She still teaches and she writes about a book a week!
"I worked on a play with her once,” said Gray. “Not exactly with her. Nagle Jackson was the artistic director at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton. He adapted the Tragical History of Dr. Faustus for production as Faustus in Hell. Of course, that’s a tale that has been told and retold. Christopher Marlowe in the 16th century. Goethe in the 18th century. As opera, as symphony, as novel, poetry, plays.
“For Faust in Hell, Nagle Jackson commissioned 7 playwrights, each to write a short piece for one of the 7 sins. I wrote for Greed. Oates wrote for Lust.”
The other sins? The other playwrights?
“Edward Albee was Envy. His piece was great. Jean-Claude Vanitallie wrote Pride. Rommulus Linney – Rage. Christopher Durang – Sloth. John Guare – Gluttony. It was a great line-up of playwrights.”
Gray told me which piece he liked best of the seven. “It was brilliant, really brilliant,” he said, but I’ve irresponsibly forgotten which sin, which playwright. I do remember his admiration for everyone though, and his pleasure at meeting with them. “We were all brought together at the last to fine-tune before the production.”

From what languages does Gray translate?
“Spanish, German, French.”
Did he say Greek also, or did I just read that somewhere? I asked him later. “I don’t think I said Greek because I don’t have the same command of Greek I have of the other languages. One time though, I was asked to translate and adapt Sophocles. I used a dictionary and a grammar, but I was surprised at how much Greek I remembered from college.”

Amlin Gray talked enthusiastically about a few of his projects - being playwright in residence at Milwaukie Repertory Theater and his adaptation there of Don Quixote for young people, his interest in covert plots within the ostensible plot, teaching at Sarah Lawrence, his specialty in Shakespeare. He told how Shakespeare’s fairies, “in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, for instance, are a little more sinister, have a little more edge to them then generally recognized today.”
Although Amlin Gray specializes in Shakespeare, his interests are broad ranging.
“I adore Japanese theater. Kabuki is just so extravagant and then on the other hand, Noh plays are so austere.”

Gray enjoys much. He reads widely and deeply. His enthusiasms are contagious. Now I want to see all his plays. We talked in riverrun, so of course we talked about books too.
“I buy too many books,” said Gray.

How well I know (and admire) this characteristic! riverrun salutes all of us who buy too many books, and offers a special salute to Amlin Gray.

synopses, production history, and purchase information for these Amlin Gray plays:
Founding Fathers, How I Got That Story, Kingdom Come, Monkey's Teeth, Pirates, Villanous Company, Bindle Stiff, The Dream Chain, The Fantod, Outlanders, Wormwood

Sarah Lawrence faculty bio (alphabetical, skip down to Gray)

commentary on the 2004 revival of How I Got That Story

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Summer in riverrun

Irene Zenolli and Forrest Orick

Monday, August 10, 2009

New Windows

New windows and door were put into old riverrun this summer. They had to be. The insurance company wouldn't renew the contract for our landlady without the modern replacements even though the old ones served well.
Fond sentiments are so intense about riverrun that some felt badly to see the old paint-peeled doors and windows go. "But where is the old door now?" asked Michael. "Is it something I could have?"

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Greg at riverrun
winter 2008/09

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Steve Kanfer made the two RIVERRUN signs in the window on the north side of the street - 7 Washington. Kanfer brought them into riverrun in the 1980s. He brought plenty of books, plenty of customers, and plenty of music into riverrun as well. Steve Kanfer accompanied fiddlers and guitar players on his saw or his washboard.
Vincent Marchetti, a sign painter turned real estate agent, and a neighbor of Frank Scioscia's, painted the now faded BOOKSTORE sign as a gift. Marchetti enjoyed coming into riverrun from time to time. Kanfer enjoyed coming into riverrun all the time.