Midtown Scholar Bookstore may be the largest used bookstore between New York and Chicago, but, when publishers schedule tours for major authors, stops in central Pennsylvania have been rare.
Store Manager Alex Brubaker is changing that. Since coming on board, he’s been emphasizing the promotion and sale of new works. And, along with that, he’s worked to attract increasingly big names to town, including, in September, one of the best known and highly regarded authors in the world—Salman Rushdie.
“I love new books, and I love author events,” Brubaker said. “They wanted new books, but they didn’t have the person to do it.”
Brubaker came to Harrisburg from Minneapolis, where he was an editorial assistant at the nonprofit book review “Rain Taxi,” covering newly published books from a variety of small presses—the kind that, even a year ago, Midtown Scholar did not carry.
He started as the coordinator of literary programs, and the promotion to manager has freed him up to fuse his passion with the strategic vision for the bookstore.
“The infrastructure was already there,” he said of Midtown Scholar. “They just let me get to it.”
Recently, Zinzi Clemmons included Harrisburg on her itinerary while promoting her widely praised debut novel, “What We Lose.” During her intimate reading, she acknowledged the importance of bookstores like Midtown Scholar for first-time authors like herself.
It was equally important for Brubaker to share Clemmons’s work with a local audience.
“I want the bookstore to be that place in central Pennsylvania where a literary community thrives,” he said. “I want Midtown Scholar to be a destination. Creating a sustainable literary culture is the goal.”
Bridging the gap to audiences in Lancaster and York is a part of that, as, he notes, those cities are only about 40 minutes from Harrisburg.
“There are places in Philly where, if you want to go to a reading, you’ll have to drive for 45 minutes anyway,” he said. “We want to be a destination.”
To make that happen, Brubaker reached out to people like Donna Talarico, who runs an online literary nonfiction journal, Hippocampus Magazine, in Lancaster. She connected Brubaker with Eliot White, also in Lancaster, who runs the literary organization, The Triangle, with a mission to connect the “triangle” of York, Lancaster and Harrisburg by increasing awareness of and producing literary events.
The Triangle has sponsored several author events at Midtown Scholar this year.
“What Alex is trying to do perfectly fits within our mission at The Triangle,” said White. “Alex really does have his finger on the pulse of the local and national literary scene, and he’s working hard to bring those things right into our backyard.”
Harrisburg’s strategic location along the East Coast also works to Midtown Scholar’s advantage.
For instance, the city was a logical stop when Riverhead Books was scheduling a tour for poet Patricia Lockwood, whose memoir, “Priestdaddy,” was published this past spring.
“Other colleagues of mine were familiar with Midtown Scholar,” said Riverhead’s Senior Publicity Manager Elizabeth Hohenadel, who had not been there prior to the Lockwood reading. “I have an affinity for the area and know a lot of people are big readers. It would be fantastic if the region became a literary destination.”
In bringing Lockwood to the bookstore, Brubaker also consulted with the Almost Uptown Poetry Cartel, which has, like The Triangle, sponsored visiting authors.
“I’m extremely grateful for the work he’s doing,” said cartel booker Gillian Branstetter. “I think, a lot of times, people keep turning over their shoulder and thinking, ‘I can’t believe something like this is happening in Harrisburg.’ If it happens enough times, then maybe Harrisburg is just a place where that kind of thing can happen. I’m glad that Alex views it that way, as well.”
When Lockwood arrived in June, she held a crowded room rapt and inspired frequent eruptions of laughter. The event drew new people to the meetings of the Poetry Cartel and to Nathaniel Gadsden’s Wordshop, which both hold their events at Midtown Scholar.
“It just goes to show that a literary community can thrive here,” Brubaker said.
Midtown Scholar Bookstore is located at 1302 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.midtownscholar.com.