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Authors Reflect on Vroman’s Bookstore

South Pasadena Poet Laureate Ron Koertge and Sherri Smith, a nationally known award-winning L.A. author who participated in a panel at the South Pasadena Public Library, are both hoping that the future is bright for Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena.
And so does local author Chantel Donnelly, who recently made her first appearance at the independent bookstore.
Joel Sheldon, the third-generation owner of the 130-year-old bookstore jolted the store’s passionate fans when he announced last month that he was putting it up for sale — but only once he found the right owner.
The bookstore is well-known not only for its well-curated collection of books and gifts, but also for acting as a place where authors can come and talk about their work.
“For me, as a young poet, independent bookstores were a place to read when a first book came out and/or a place to try out some new work during an open mic night,” said Koertge, who guessed he has appeared at Vroman’s about 10 times over a period of 20 years.
“I know writers — and I’m one of them — who don’t forget their friends, so when I got better known, I always included the places that were cordial to me early in my career.”
Smith remembered her first solo event in 2020 with the publication of her novel “The Blossom and the Firefly,” in which she brought in a violinist and a koto (Japanese musical instrument) to perform a piece that is a pivotal scene in the novel.
“Authors tend to be solitary creatures, so it means the world to come out of that cave and into a welcoming place like Vroman’s,” said Smith, who has won the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators Golden Kite Award. She was also a recipient of the California Book Award Gold Medal and has been named Amelia Bloomer and American Library Association Best Books for Young People awards.
Smith recently appeared at Vroman’s, along with her co-author Elizabeth Wein, at a reading of their latest book, “American Wings,” about a group of pioneering Black aviators during the period from World War I to World War II.
“Just like writing, reading can be a solitary pastime,” Smith said, “but bookstores are where readers come together. It’s one deeply pleasurable thing to roam the shelves discovering stories, but an added joy to find a literary community. I’ve sat in the audience at many Vroman’s events soaking up the conversation with folks like (authors) Jacqueline Woodson and Amor Towles. It’s like meeting rock stars in someone’s living room. I love it.”
Donnelly spoke at Vroman’s late last month to a group of about 50 people who came to hear her and two other authors.
“It was the first time I’ve spoken at an independent bookstore,” Donnelly said. “It was fulfilling. It was wonderful. It was satisfying to know people were interested in the content of the book and that they would come out and listen.
“It was nice to have an independent bookstore support independent authors. I sold out of books. It was a lovely roundup of people from South Pasadena who came out to support me.”
The 79-year-old Sheldon, in announcing the sale of Vroman’s two locations in Pasadena and another independent bookstore Duck Soup bought by the company in 2009, said in an Instagram that he would take his time in finding the right owner.
“Vroman’s deserves new ownership with the vision, energy and commitment necessary to take it successfully into the future,” Sheldon said.
Over the years, Vroman’s has hosted authors such as Ray Bradbury, Joan Didion, Hillary Clinton and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

First published in the February 23 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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