- Enrique Limón
For more than 40 years, The King's English Bookshop has been a staple of the Salt Lake City book-lovers' community. But it's become more than a place that sells and promotes books. Now, it's a place that creates them, too.
Turning Pages: The King's English at 39—published in fall 2017—marked a new direction in the bookshop's annual efforts to commemorate the anniversary of its opening in September 1977. According to marketing manager Rob Eckman, "As we approached our 40th birthday, we discussed different things we could do to involve the community, to really be able to celebrate that community aspect of what bookstores are. Finally, we decided to publish a book."
That book was indeed a community effort, as The King's English put out a call for submissions through notices at the store, its customer email lists and social media. The request was for personal 500-word-or-less essays or visual art, focused on the theme "A Night in the Bookstore," and included participants in a youth category (12 and under) and adult (13 and over). Nearly 25 participants submitted work, and every work—once it was deemed appropriate for a general audience—was included in the resulting anthology.
It was a big deal for the authors—including a couple of 10-year-old writers—who were invited to read their work at The King's English birthday party in September, then returned again for a signing once the book was published later in the fall. According to Eckman, it was important to include written and visual work, since "we didn't want to limit people who could participate." And it was a powerful thing for those creators to be published in this way. "We see these people come in and ask, 'When are you next going to be accepting submissions,'" Eckman says. "To be published is a big deal. To be an author, and be celebrated, really resonates."
The response to the initial project was so strong that The King's English decided to make Turning Pages an annual tradition. This week marks the publication of the second installment, Turning Pages: The King's English at 40 (which recognizes the 40th anniversary year in which submissions were collected, though this September marked the 41st birthday), which used the theme "Once Upon a Time in a Bookshop." Submissions for the 2019 installment, "People in Our Neighborhood," closed in October.
Among the new participants in this year's volume is Russell Isabella, an associate professor of Consumer & Family Studies at the University of Utah. For Isabella, contributing to Turning Pages was a way to express his personal appreciation for The King's English after many years as a patron.
"When my wife and I moved from Pennsylvania to Logan in 1986," Isabella recalls, "we experienced a bit of culture shock. At some point we started making monthly sojourns to SLC for Granato's [Deli], record stores—and we found The King's English. We began going to their Christmas party, spending too much money there on books, getting to know the employees, taking our children to the story hours ... Then we moved, and I've lived pretty much around the corner from them for close to 30 years ... So I was motivated [to contribute to Turning Pages] by my love for the place.
While Isabella writes as an academic for his job, he describes his contribution to Turning Pages as a different kind of writing than he has done before. "I ended up telling a story about the years of my life I've been connected to the bookstore," he says, "finding it as something of an oasis when we were feeling lost ... This shop is invaluable to the community. There was a time shortly after Barnes & Noble in Sugar House and amazon.com appeared when The King's English was really struggling. In those places, you're not meeting people who want to put a book in your hand that will change your life."
While the Turning Pages anthologies have helped connect the bookshop with its devoted customers, it has also subsequently created a new mission for the store. Using self-publishing tools through IngramSpark, The King's English created its own publishing imprint, TKE Ink. In addition to the Turning Pages anthologies, TKE Ink has also published I'll Tell You What..., a collection of columns by The Salt Lake Tribune columnist Ann Cannon commemorating her father, the late legendary BYU football coach LaVell Edwards. "The neat thing about this," Eckman says, "is that it's self-publishing, but it also satisfies our need for stock, storage and distribution. Now we're selling books to Barnes & Noble and Amazon."
And that's the way to send the power of this Salt Lake City book-loving community out into the world.