FRIENDSHIP AND SERENDIPITY IN A BOOKSTORE, guest blogger Marion Cohen

Every fourth Saturday I come here, from Philadelphia, to play Scrabble. After I take Septa to Trenton, Barbara – our well-known Classics fixture – picks me up and drives me the short mile. Classics is such a friendly place! Somebody always brings in Scrabble food, or we go to that little outdoor place around the corner and across the street. Sometimes, to start out, Barbara and I are the only ones here, but soon other friends arrive. Barbara knows their names; I don’t. Little by little, though, I’m beginning to recognize people and things about them. I know, e.g., that John is, like me, a writer and, like me, has written memoir. On “Scrabble day” Classics is like a little commune; it’s everybody’s home. I assume it’s that way all week.

There are going to be two serendipities in this post. The first involves how I came to know about Classics. Well, first I came to know Barbara. Meeting her was itself serendipitous. About eight years ago my friend Susan and I were playing our weekly Scrabble game – or two or three… — in Starbucks on 10th and Chestnut in, yes, Philadelphia. Along came two friendly strangers, interested in watching our game. By the next game, they had joined in. They also joined in the next week, and the next, and the next.

And so began our Scrabble group — Barbara, Bruce, Susan, and me — meeting at that same Starbucks. This went on for several years until life evolved and Barbara got involved with Classics. Now we join her there, for Scrabble. (Barbara and I also sometimes meet for thrift-shopping, usually in Trenton.)

And then something serendipitous happened for my life as a poet/writer! I’m a mathprof and also the author of several books, poetry and memoir (one book about my passion for math), published mostly by small presses. Like many poets/writers, I have almost as many unpublished books as published. And like many poets/writers, I’m always on the lookout for (A) places to do featured readings (as opposed to open mics) and (B) publishers for unpublished books.

It wasn’t long before Barbara invited me to do a featured reading at Classics. And I never dreamed that a small bookstore reading, in a town over an hour from where I live and where nobody but Barbara and Classics knows me, could lead to so much! After Barbara, and then Eric’s, invitation about two years ago I did one Classics reading, attended by about ten people (and sold more books than I often sell at readings). Then, about a year later, when a new chapbook of mine was released – Parables for a Rainy Day – I did another.

Eric, by the way, is one of the kindest poetry reading coordinators I have encountered. And I’ve encountered many, most of whom you have to email more than once, indeed more than twice, in order to get an answer to a reading query, and many of whom consent to schedule you and then forget about it, and many of whom actually do schedule you and then forget about it. Not Eric! Eric gets back to you right away – give him a day or two – with a reading date. So I, like many, very much appreciate Eric.

At my own second Classics reading about a year ago – again, in this small town that barely knows me – something happened that’s every writer’s dream. At that reading was an actual talent scout! Elizabeth – another familiar figure around Classics – runs a press called Red Dashboard and she was at the reading looking for authors. And then – again, every writer’s dream – she heard me read and invited me to submit a book manuscript – not a chapbook, mind you, but full-length. No reading fees! No fees of any kind! (So many presses, small and large, charge anything from five to twenty-five dollars to accompany the submission of a manuscript). Of course I sent Elizabeth a manuscript right away, probably as soon as I got home from the reading.

At that time my books totaled 21, with the possibility (which did pan out) of finally placing the sequel memoir to Dirty Details: The Days and Nights of a Well Spouse (Temple University Press) being released by a small press, Unlimited Publishing. (That memoir is titled Still the End: Memoir of a Nursing Home Wife.) Of course, I was thrilled to have the sequel memoir published, but I still had many poems, both new and backlog, uncollected in books. So I was very happy when Elizabeth emailed me back, after a not very long wait, with an acceptance for my 23rd book (Lights I Have Loved).

Only at Classics has such a thing happened to me, or perhaps to anybody! In my almost-forty years as a serious writer, I’ve found publishers – and I always have to search anew – at book fairs, open mics, and mostly by hard-core sending out queries to people I never met and vice versa. Only at Classics does a book fall into my lap!

Find out more about Marion Cohen on her website:  http://www.marioncohen.net/

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