Interview with a Bookstore: Tulsa’s Magic City Books

Literacy and Community in Downtown Tulsa

January 25, 2018  By Interview with a Bookstore

Magic City Books is located in downtown Tulsa and is owned and operated by the non-profit Tulsa Literary Coalition.

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magic city books

What’s your favorite section of the store?

LeeAnna Weaver (Buyer/Program Director): The cookbook section is my favorite. Almost any recipe is available online, but cookbooks persist in their appeal. Why? They tell stories.

What would you say is your bookstore’s specialty?

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LW: Magic City Books is owned by a non-profit, the Tulsa Literary Coalition. Its focus is to celebrate books and reading as a catalyst for reflection, exploration, and connection. Our store’s mission goes beyond selling books. People who are engaged with books are better citizens. We work diligently to connect readers in our community to books that will ignite thought and discussion.

magic city books

What’s your favorite book to hand-sell?

Cindy Hulsey (Executive Director): During the holiday season, I hand-sold many copies of 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino. I love introducing people to books they may have missed. The characters in this gem stayed with me long after I finished the book. The theme of hope and second chances is both universal and timely, and the writing is so lovely. Marie-Helene, if you’re listening, please come to Tulsa on your next book tour!

If you had infinite space, what would you add?

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CH: We’ve been surprised and delighted at the tremendous response to our children’s section, so with additional space, a much larger selection would be welcomed by our patrons. Also, the Tulsa Artist Fellowship (TAF) studios are on the floor above our store. A rotating gallery of the latest work by artists-in-residence would be a glorious use of extra space.

 tulsa magic city books Magic City Books Founder, Jeff Martin, speaking at the opening with Mayor G.T. Bynum

What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with?

CH: We’ve been selling books at BookSmart Tulsa events for years, and our patrons were in a complete frenzy last fall waiting for us to open the doors to the bookstore, which is the first independent bookstore in Tulsa for several years. The day we opened shop, Mayor Bynum gave an amazing speech about the importance of books in our lives; he cut the ribbon, and boom—we were flooded by an outpouring of love from Tulsans who want a bookstore at the heart of their community. It was a crazy lovefest, and it continues everyday.

What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?

LW: The conversations I have with our readers renew my faith in the goodness of humans. I am surprised by the depth of our interactions as well as the variety of topics we talk about. People have a longing for face-to-face discussion about books and subjects that are meaningful to them.

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magic city books

Tell us about your most memorable author event.

Bettina Dirks (Store Manager): I am a huge Stephen King fan, so our Stephen King event was a dream come true for me. He was so much fun. I got to be in the green room with him while he pre-signed books. At one point, he stopped so he could show me a picture of his dog (Molly aka the Thing of Evil).

What’s the book you want to bring back into print? 

LW: Oklahoma Foot-Loose and Fancy-Free by Angie Debo. Many Oklahomans are unaware of our state’s complex and rich history. Oklahoma always manages to make it to the bottom of some list, but there’s something about this place where the wind comes sweeping down the plain that feels like home.

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magic city books

What’s your message to Amazon (and Amazon customers)?

CH: Everything is cyclical, and we’re seeing a resurgence of locally owned businesses. People are returning to print while e-book sales slide, and independent bookstores are on the rise. You can only sit in front of a screen for so long before you crave face-to-face connection with people. There is satisfaction in getting a personal recommendation from a knowledgeable bookseller that an algorithm can’t provide. Bricks and mortar bookstores can’t compete with Amazon, and we shouldn’t try. We should focus on what we do best, which is provide personal service, events and programs, and a place where you want to hang out with your friends. Our experience at Magic City Books has demonstrated that people are ready to embrace us as their “third place,” and are willing to support us with their book-buying dollars.

How do you use the bookstore to build community?

CH: Magic City Books is located in the Arts District of downtown Tulsa. We believe MCB is the literary piece of Tulsa’s culture pie that has been missing. We partner with several businesses and non-profit organizations to offer a robust calendar of literary events, including five monthly staff-led book groups, author events, and book talks. MCB’s café and Algonquin Room are popular gathering spots in downtown. Last month a couple became engaged at MCB. Maybe a wedding will be next?

Magic City Books Staff Shelf

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Katlin’s pick)
A collection of accounts and a cast of characters unlike any you have met before narrate this strange story of Lincoln visiting his son’s body in the graveyard. Winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize and one of the most unusual books of the year.

Purple Swamp Hen

Purple Swamp Hen by Penelope Lively (Barry’s pick)
Eccentric collection of short stories by this popular author; typical of her British humor with clever plot twists throughout!

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (LeeAnna’s pick)
Winner of the 2017 National Book Award for fiction (her second), Ward’s hometown in rural Mississippi is the setting for this soul song of generational poverty and the hope of breaking free. The ghosts that haunt Toni Morrison’s Beloved find new voice in this powerful story.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (Lesley’s pick)
Set in a funeral home in small town Pennsylvania, feminist cartoonist Alison Bechdel unveils her unconventional childhood in her award-winning graphic novel. Addressing themes of sexuality, identity and loss, the story is personal, political, and universal, reflecting the style of Persepolis.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Tait’s pick)
Genetic engineering, corporate espionage, ecological terrorism, global pandemics… it’s tough growing up at the end of the world, especially when your best friend starts the apocalypse! The first in a horrifying, wildly entertaining trilogy by master Margaret Atwood.

2 AM in the Cat's Pajamas

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino (Cindy’s pick)
Three lost souls, including nine-year-old aspiring jazz singer Madeleine Altimari search for love and redemption at a failing club in Philadelphia. Motherless Madeleine is as sassy and endearing as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. This book will break your heart, then make it soar. 

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