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.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dobbs Ferry Bookstore

Gregory, Michael and Mary Stephens  Dobbs Ferry Bookstore
December 1974





Frank Scioscia's first bookstore was called Dobbs Ferry Bookstore. Scioscia didn't know if he should open a store but his son, Charles, encouraged him. Charles found the storefront for rent.
"$110 per month," Charles says. We signed the lease in spring of 1974." Charles helped Frank build bookshelves. I painted the sign. "Dobbs Ferry Bookstore" Dark blue on white. The letters were a little lopsided even though I was theoretically plenty mature enough to make proper sign letters.

Frank had lots of fun with the store. In no time though, he needed more space. He moved to Washington Avenue in Hastings in 1978. His new store was named riverrun.

riverrun is a very good name for the store in a number of ways. FAS loved the majestic Hudson River that lay just on the other side of the railroad tracks from the new store. He liked the literary connection in this name too.
Frank Scioscia and Chris Stephens thought of the name together. Their ideas got so intermingled in the animated and hilarious naming discussions that each thought he'd come up with the name for the store.

riverrun. It's the first word, also uncapitalized, in Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce. Scioscia and Stephens were both Joyce enthusiasts. So was Frank's brother, John Socia of Old York Bookstore in New Brunswick NJ. The word fit perfectly. riverrun

Sunday, June 28, 2009

CPS in riverrun


1995

Chris Stephens early in his tenure as riverrun proprietor.

Chris was already a well established book dealer. He'd had several stores and assembled many scholarly collections of books for university libraries.

Chris took over riverrun early in 1994. He wasn't sure it would be his cup of tea, but by the time this picture was taken - long before actually - he'd realized that he and the store were perfect for each other.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Forrest Orick at riverrun


Forrest visits the bookstore his great-grandfather founded and his grandfather now owns and runs.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lunch

A kind of ugly scene played itself out at riverrun today. It was after 12:30. Low blood sugar played a part.

Chris Stephens, riverrun proprietor, was locking the store door to go out for a much needed lunch break. This other guy, a potential customer, was getting out of his car in anticipation of a much needed book break. The men collided, metaphorically speaking.

The potential customer could not believe that Chris was denying access to the books.
Both men were driven to extremes of expression by their "much-neededs", but the potential customer had a point. If I were giving a course in retail 101, I would teach these lessons: Don't ever close the store during open hours, even briefly for lunch. Don't argue with potential customers.
Chris would fail that course. More to the point, Chris wouldn't sign up to take that course.

What do store proprietors owe their customers and potential customers?

Chris would say honest dealings. He'd probably also include owner expertise and an interesting inventory on a list of what the store owes. But strict adherence to posted hours wouldn't be there.

In spite of being closed occasionally and briefly for lunch, riverrun is great bookstore. It's open every single day of the year. Come visit. For sure you'll get honest dealings, a terrifically well-informed owner, and a mighty interesting stock.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Geri Rosenzweig reading at riverrun

photo by Dan Wilcox
May 18, 1986



I wasn't at this reading. My youngest daughter had just been born. I'm sorry I missed it though.
All these years later, my daughter is 23 now and I've just begun to read Rosenzweig's poetry. I love it.

People who know more about this kind of thing will have smarter things to say about poetry, but this is what I think.

Prose is designed for broadcast. People with a wide range of experience and thinking patterns can connect with something written in prose. Poetry is tighter, like a laser, or more romantically, like an arrow. The poems responder-audience is far narrower. Sometimes poems that resonate brilliantly with one person entirely miss another.
Between the right kind of person and their right kind of poetry, the poem penetrates deeper. The arrow goes right to the heart.

I'm on target for Rosenzweig's poetry. Right to my heart.


As always, Dan Wilcox's poetry blog is a treat.

more resources for Geri Rosenzweig:

G. R.'s introduction, The Music of What Happens, to her book Under the Jasmine Moon
Two Poems
The Cortland Review
The Youngest Daughter published in Barnwood
Barnwood Rosenzweig bio
from the Annals of Modern Medicine
some poems

Alicia Ostriker



3 photos by Dan Wilcox April 18, 1986












Alicia Ostriker read at riverrun s part of the Pomegranate Poetry Reading Series.

Dan Wilcox was there with his camera and observations.


Monday, June 22, 2009

W. S. Merwin at riverrun


photo by Christopher P. Stephens May 1983






Wiliam Stanley Merwin read his poetry to an appreciative crowd at riverrun in 1983.

W.S. Merwin, poet, and F.A. Scioscia, riverrun proprietor, met at the reading, but they may have met unknowingly earlier. They overlapped. Merwin spent part of his childhood in Scranton Pennsylvania, where Scioscia spent his entire childhood.

Scranton is surrounded by ancient hills. When these men were children, and even later when I was a child, acres of slag from the coal mines lay in the outskirts of the city. Nothing grew on these slag heaps. Blue flames of slow combustion shimmered over them continually. The slag was on fire for decades.

Merwin and Scioscia had something else in common besides this coincidence of childhood location. The men had a similar characteristic manner, a similar largeness of connections. Some people called it an aura, some a gentleness of spirit.
Not me though. Aura or whatever, I think those were fierce spirits. They were forceful and swiftly moving, like mighty rivers.
Their spirits raged but each man interacted with others in a way that was disarmingly gentle. Maybe that combination is what makes poetry.

When Merwin read at riverrun, he already had quite a reputation as a prolific translator, a Literary Soldier against the U.S. war in Vietnam, an early environmentalist and, most importantly, a sterling poet.



Poetry.org Academy of American Poets
Modern American Poetry merwin
Steven Barclay Agency article on Merwin
19 minute audio interview

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Tribute to Six Important Fathers on Fathers' Day

July 1988

FRANK SCIOSCIA - Father of riverrun bookstore





FAS is shown here with his 2 oldest grandchildren - themselves now the fathers of my very fine grandchildren.


GEORGE WASHINGTON - father of our country

File:Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.jpg

CHRISTOPHER P. STEPHENS - Current proprietor of riverrun as well as the remarkable father of my remarkable children.



JOHANNES GUTENBERG - Father of Modern Printing


File:Gutenberg.jpg

Friday, June 19, 2009

Irene Zanolli



Irene is working at riverrun for the summer. She's a fast learner and a hard worker. She talks to customers, processes orders, files books, and packs books. We're glad to have her.

Regretfully, come September we won't have in riverrun. She'll be trekking in the Himalayas!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gordon Parks


Gordon Parks did so many different things. So well. What made him strike out artistically in all those directions?
This is what Parks himself says about his many pursuits in Creativity:

"Perhaps if I had been fortunate enough to have gone on to college, to study medicine, engineering or whatever, I would not have become involved in so many other things. More than likely I wold have given all my time to one chosen avocation. As it happened I tried several fields. If case one failed me I could turn to another one. Finally, it means that I was forced to rid myself of the insecurities that the lack of education brought me. But, in retrospect, I honestly say that I enjoyed the uncertainty of the broader and more precarious adventure."

Parks explains part of his philosophy as recognition of "... the need of man simply to dream. To dream remarkable and impossible dreams and to have the desire to fulfil those dreams."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Boots















Whenever we have Gordon Parks' photography in stock, we file it in this alcove.
This is riverrun's section for books on photography, fine art, and decorative arts.

These aren't the photos I wanted for this post. I wanted a photograph of Gordon Parks' clothes closet, especially featuring his many pairs of cowboy boots.
Cowboy boots were not exactly a Parks' trademark, but they were definitely one of his basic wardrobe staples.
Sadly I don't have a photo of Gordon Parks' boots. A good opportunity to get one was wasted. I wasn't there and Chris, who was, didn't take it.

Chris Stephens and Wyatt Houston Day were invited to Park's apartment to look at his books a short time after Parks died in 2006. He had marvelous things in a bright, spacious apartment on the east side of Manhattan. Several of Parks' ex-wives were there when the bookmen arrived. The wives were gracious and lovely. They encouraged the bookmen to look everywhere.
In the process of looking everywhere, Chris came upon Parks' boot-filled closet. "Oh no," Chris protested when I asked if he had taken that picture. "That would have been intrusive."

I don't see it that way. Wouldn't it have been a great photo to have? So many of Gordon Parks' photos reached into the un-public parts of peoples' lives. I don't think he would have minded. I don't think the wives would have minded either.

Gordon Parks was his parents' 15th, and last, child. He was born in 1912. His parents were Kansas farmers. Gordon Parks was bursting with many talents outside the realm of normal farm life. Despite his difficult early years, Parks' talents carried him high and wide. He was accomplished. He was influential.
I knew he was a photographer - stirring photos rushing in at life and shouting out at us. He also had many other talents. Parks wrote novels and memoirs and poems and screenplays and musical scores. He directed Shaft and Shaft's Big Score. He wrote, produced, and directed The Learning Tree. He also wrote the memoir on which it's based and wrote the music for the movie.

Gordon Parks was admired for his many talents and for his wide-ranging projects. He was well liked too. He was famous for being so likable.
When Chris and Wyatt got into Parks' apartment, some things had already been sent to auction. It didn't matter. There were still many treasures and fascinating items left. The bookmen went for the many fine books. I would have gone for the boots.


memoirs by Gordon Parks:
1963 - The Learning Tree
1966 - A Choice of Weapons
1979 - To Smile in Autumn
1997 - Half Past Autumn

photography was my choice of weapons
NY Times article/obit

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Collage Books



Michael Orick designs one-of-a-kind collage pop-up books. They are masterpieces. Orick wields an exacto blade with precision and inspiration. The art-work books are filled with unexpected juxtapositions, surprise flaps, and wheels that turn images.

Michael Orick hosts a weekly collage night at his home in Santa Cruz. Like minded artists gather Wednesday nights for creative evenings of a high-tech, high-art version of cut and paste. The Dead Cow Gallery in Santa Cruz hosted an exhibition of the collage night artists during April. It was grand fun but not as much fun as Wednesday nights.


see more from collage artists around the world at collagenight.com

Friday, June 12, 2009

CPS and MHS


summer 2008

Two Big Readers:

Christopher Stephens and
Mary Scioscia


Monday, June 8, 2009

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Frank Scioscia - Harper & Row



Frank Scioscia was a sales representative for Harper & Brothers from summer 1956 to spring 1966. His territory was Southern California and Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. He liked the travel. His accounts were stores that carried new books, but he always stopped in at the used bookstores wherever he went.
In 1966 Frank was promoted to the head office in New York. Frank Scioscia worked at Harpers until he retired. He worked through mergers that changed the name of the publishing house from Harper & Bros to Harper & Row to Harper Collins.
Frank Scioscia enjoyed the publishing world in NYC, but he always a little bit missed the life of a publishers sales rep.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Andrea Working

2009

Andrea Stephens packing orders.

Chris Stephens arranging book movement one direction or the other.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ross Priel - Journalist

January 2009




    Ross Priel has been an enthusiastic friend of  riverrun for a very long time.

  He's pictured here with Christopher Stephens and a hefty selection of darned good books. 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Closing - Gotham Book Mart

Andy Brown in his office at Gotham Book Mart
photo by Christopher Stephens, September 1979
The Gotham Book Mart did not shut down after its comprehensive sale of inventory. I thought it might. I thought people wouldn’t care much for new books on old shelves.
But Andy Brown knew modern literature. He had a good eye and the replacements he bought made a fascinating array of new books. Besides, the original manuscripts were still there. They had not been part of the sale to New Mexico. They lent prestige. And there were surplus copies of books that Gotham had published salted in amongst the new titles.
The history and the cache of the place where wise men had fished for so long helped maintain a momentum. The Gotham went on for 30 more years.
We were in the city for the rest of that decade. Christopher Stephens stopped into the Gotham frequently. He was pleased to see its continued success.
During the 1980s we moved our book operations north of the George Washington Bridge. We rarely visited.
There were rumors of money troubles, but who in the book business doesn’t routinely buy books beyond cash flow? There were hints of discord over the ownership of the building and other disagreements. We heard about it when Frances Steloff died and when Gotham changed locations and when financial difficulties got bad enough to threaten the store.
When Gotham finally did close its doors, there was plenty of loudly mournful reaction. (There might be a profound insight to be discovered in the fact that the media wailed when the store shut down in 2007, but not when it sold its guts in 1974.)
The people who wrote about the end and the gift to the University of Pennsylvania know a lot more about it than I do. I'm putting some links to their articles in. But Gotham closing is not really my story anyway.
There are ups and downs and various inevitable woes of commerce. For me the big story is that, in spite of everything, the grand Gotham Book Mart was open for business for almost 90 years.
Village Voice article
historical review of Gotham with pictures and info about Penn State
gothamist's take on it
Edward Byrne, poet and editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review remembers

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Publishing Dinner

Last evening I sat opposite this guy on the commuter train. He was wearing a nice suit and had a yellow striped tie. He looked end-of-work-day zoned out, the same way I felt.
Suddenly his cell phone rang. He transformed. He became animated and smiled this big, friendly, genuine smile into the phone.
The way these crowded commuter trains are, I was only inches away from the phone. I was practically part of the conversation. The guy in the yellow tie was inviting the caller to a dinner party, but the caller was already busy and couldn't make it. They were both disappointed.
"There will be about 12 of us - mostly editors I guess, some execs, a few authors. We all wanted to get together and discuss publishing." He went on to talk about some of his authors and projects he was working on and editors he was having lunch with.

Have you any idea how much I wanted to tap this stranger on the knee and beg to be invited to that dinner? It would have been completely inappropriate, right?

Ordinarily I would have taken that train from Grand Central Terminal all the way home. I would have been sitting opposite him for 35 minutes. I would have heard more and more about coming publishing discussion dinner. The tension might have become unbearable.
Last night though, in a freakishly unusual circumstance, I departed the train at the Yankee Stadium stop. The guy was still on the phone.
I guess that unusually early departure saved me from blundering through who knows what social taboos.

Whatever Happened to all those Book Gems? - Gotham Book Mart

      Andy Brown sold all the contents of the Gotham Book Mart to the University of New Mexico in 1974.  What contents that was!  We spent three 24-hour days packing up signed first editions, beautiful books, literary classics, literary mavericks, experimental fiction, poetry of all sorts, previously banned books, and high-quality non-fiction.
     At the end of each day John, the librarian representing New Mexico in this mammoth transfer of books, performed the ritual of sealing the huge box-filled truck.  Then that truck drove away and the all-night crew began packing and piling up more boxes for the next day's truck.
     Some of the most priceless items were too physically slight to go into a box.  A thousand broadsides and countless pamphlets and other ephemera were carefully tucked into a wooden case for extra protection.  That case was the last thing packed onto the last truck.  It wasn't easy getting it on either because that last truck was packed tight.  We all watched.  It was the ending ceremony. 
     A short time later the NY Times quoted Jim Dyke, head librarian in NM, from a telephone interview.  Dr. Dyke said that he liked to think they had moved the Gotham Book Mart from the shores of the Hudson River to the shores of the Rio Grande.  I like rivers and I like books.  The quote particularly appealed to me.  But was it entirely true?   Did young scholars in New Mexico have access to those truckloads from NY?
     No.  Not all of them.  The wooden case was the first loss.  It didn't make it to New Mexico.  John's seal was more than broken.   That truck didn't even get there.  It broke down in Kansas City and the cargo  had to be completely unloaded and reloaded onto a new truck.  The stuff in the wooden case was irreplaceable.  Chris went slightly berserk.  He wanted New Mexico to sue the  trucking company.  The missing case accounted for about 10% of the total value.   Chris was sure that someone associated with the trucking company stole those treasures.  It didn't have to happen that way, but I know why Chris is so sure.  The idea of theft is so much more palatable than the idea of all that collectible ephemera being carelessly destroyed.  Even now, 35 years later, Chris fantasizes about those broadsides and pamphlets surfacing.

     The terms of the bond issue with which NM bought Gotham stipulated that the money must go for material, not accessioning costs.   This meant there wasn't money available to process the books.  Years later almost half the boxes were still unpacked.  That information whetted Chris interest.
     "Well Jim, if you aren't using them, why don't I buy them back from you?" Chris suggested.  I admired James Dyke.  He was intelligent and competent, self assured and upright.
     "No.  Can't do that," Jim explained.  "Those books are assets that belong to the people of New Mexico.    Legally and morally I'm prevented from selling those assets unless the people pass a referendum to condemn them."
     So the boxes remained as they were until Dyke retired.  His replacement was, no doubt, every bit as upright but he interpreted things differently.  He sold all those boxes to the respected and knowledgeable Peter Howard of Serendipity Bookstore in Berkeley, California. 

     So in the end the Frances Steloff/Andreas Brown Gotham Book Mart stock was scattered.  It didn't settle as a collection on any riverbank.
     

Monday, June 1, 2009

NM University System - Gotham Book Mart

     Mid 20th century brought rapid population expansion to the American southwest.  Suburban infrastructure was laid down over desert wilds.  In Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas roads and sewage lines and electricity were brought in.  Schools were built.
     In the 1970s massive bond issues were passed in these states for money to fill new university library shelves.  It was a good decade in the book market for dealers like Christopher Stephens.  Stephens enjoys building subject collections and he is good at it.  He had a solid relationship with university librarians.  They trusted his expertise and his vision.  He sold one collection after another.
     In 1974 one of the New Mexico librarians who had purchased many collections from Chris told him they'd like to buy a really good bookstore crammed full of great books.  Did he know of one that might be available?
     riverrun would have been perfect but it didn't exist yet.   Chris thought of Gotham Book Mart.   Andy Brown's interest was piqued but he wasn't sure.  Maybe.  Probably.
     Jim Dyke flew in from New Mexico. We took him out to eat at a fancy NY restaurant.  The restaurant gate keeper refused to recognize the regional formality of the western braided leather string tie with the turquoise slide that Jim wore.  They made him put on a broad, silk NY tie with stripes.  It was embarrassing.  For me.  Jim Dyke looked mildly amused at the pomposity of it.  He was completely at his ease.
     The dinner was delectable.   Chris talked up Gotham.  The next day Chris and Jim spent the day at the bookstore.  Jim walked slowly past every shelf.  He took photos of the books and spoke notes into a recording device.
     After Jim returned to New Mexico, Chris and I visited Andy to firm up plans.  We met upstairs in a conference room with shelves partway up the walls and very interesting pictures above the shelves.  There were four of us.  A man was with Andy, maybe a lawyer, maybe an employee.  We sat a a long table.  The doors were closed.  Chris Stephens and Andy Brown talked.  The guy with Andy and I listened to them.
      Andy had left strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed.  I found out later from Tim and Sandy Shortt, friends of ours and very dear school friends of Andy's, that they had visited Gotham at the very moment we were cloistered upstairs.   They'd asked to see Andy and were denied.  Their feelings were slightly hurt.  What could be so important that Andy couldn't break away to see old friends?
     Well, working out the emotionally charged details for selling a 50 year old literary treasure trove to a desert state 2000 miles away for lots of money.  That's what was so important.  We couldn't explain to Tim and Sandy because the deal was still in a fluid stage.
     There were a couple of other visits from New Mexico librarians, a few more superb dinners at arrogant NY restaurants.  Chris met with the principals a few more times.  I took one of the librarians to see the Cathedral of St John the Divine.  A deal was finally struck.
     It was basically this:  the university system of the state of New Mexico purchased all stock in the Gotham Book Mart with a single exception.  In the basement there were still many copies of certain titles that Frances Steloff had published.  NM wanted the first and best 6 copies of every state of every edition, but in the few cases where there were more than 6, those would stay in the basement.
     Andy wanted to continue running Gotham after the sale.  Chris and I agreed to get all the books packed and out in 3 days.  He was closed for less than a week.  He covered the front windows with brown paper.  A large sign said "Closed for Inventory"  which was cryptic and somewhat alarming to Gotham's devoted customers.
     We hired 3 shifts of temporary workers to pack and label around the clock.  Chris and I each worked 12 hours  thereby covering all 24.  We oversaw the temporary workers, packed and labeled.    One of the NM librarians stayed to be sure they got everything.  We arranged for 3 of those gigantic 18 or 24 wheel trucks and we packed up one each day.  We hadn't anticipated well.  On one of the days the St. Patrick's Day parade took over New York City and complicated the driving life of the trucker who was trying to drive that load out of the city and out onto our nation's highways.

     In the meantime, Andy had purchased scads of new books from publishers and wholesalers and remainder houses.  They arrived on skids.  As we emptied, Andy's staff filled.

     It was an exhausting but very exciting adventure.  On a personal note, we bought our own wonderful house amongst the trees with our commission.  Chris didn't have time to help look for the perfect house.  He commissioned me for that job.  I couldn't dawdle.  He was a bookman after all.  While I was shopping houses, Chris was busy spending away that commission pretty fast to buy up yet more marvelous collections of books.