Booksellers Rock! Stacie Michelle Williams at Boswell Book Company

Name: Stacie Michelle Williams

Bookstore: Boswell Book Company

Title: We’re still working on one, but I do a lot with author events

Brief Bio.: A lifelong bibliophile who taught herself to read by age 5 and self-recorded an audiobook (Mickey & the Magic Bean Grinder) onto cassette at 7, Stacie has been shelving books by subject, title, height, color, and alphabetically by author, since she had her own small library’s (one bookcase) worth of books in her room at age 12.  Also a writer who regularly fulfills her sixth-grade teacher’s admonition of “not applying herself,” Stacie makes sporadic attempts at proper writing, only to be distracted by her Siberian Husky (Vito), her cat (Gandalf), craft beers, live music, movies of all kinds (arthouse to trashy action), smart T.V. (Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica), dragon-boating, tree-climbing, and, of course, books.  She started out in bookselling at the splendid Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops (R.I.P.) in 2005 and transitioned to Boswell in 2009.

What books recently rocked my world:  Define “recently.” Within the last few months–The Other Walk: Essays by Sven Birkerts, Boleto by Alyson Hagy (May 2012, sorry), The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill.

Best damn event(s) we’ve hosted: Since I did events at Schwartz, too, I’m only going to share the Boswell ones.  Last year we hosted an event at the Wisconsin Conservatory of music for A. Manette Ansay’s book, Good Things I Wish You.  It was a seamless working of musical performances into the reading and customers still talk about how wonderful it was.  This year, we held the Algonquin Free Beer tour at a local bar and had a folk-rock band close it out.  More recently, Ernest Cline showed up to his talk with his DeLorean and Ghostbusters proton packs, and a local theatre group did a dramatic reading as part of Dava Sobel’s appearance at a science museum.

Most entertaining author(s) we’ve hosted: I’m entertained at many of our author events (or perhaps I’m just easily entertained), but Sherman Alexie is one of the laugh-out-loud, funniest authors we’ve hosted and we’ve done it twice.  He doesn’t read, he barely addresses whatever book he’s touring for – instead, he talks, tells stories, engages in lengthy Q&A and on top of it all is a firm, outspoken, consistent advocate for the printed page and the importance of indie bookstores.  Just last month we had the extreme pleasure of hosting Sebastian Barry—the multiple-Man Booker-nominated Irish author, poet and playwright.  He did an exuberant dramatic reading from portions of his novel, On Canaan’s Side, which included beautiful renditions of American folk songs which he sang in his lilting Irish accent.  It was incredible.

Strangest question a customer has ever asked: “What happened on this day in 1852?” Oh, and there was the call I took from an older, hard-of-hearing woman who asked if we had any books on “Kegel” exercises. We’ve also been asked if we sell yoga mats.

Why our store kicks ass: Our t-shirts are designed by local artists, which is pretty kick-ass. We’re mind-readers when it comes to what you might be seeking.  We aren’t afraid to be smart AND silly.  And while it might seem a bit macabre, the truth is that if you’re one of our regular customers and you pass away, we will go to your funeral.

What makes our neighborhood and customers awesome: We’re located a few blocks from Lake Park, on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.  The neighborhood itself is a mix of college students and young professionals, teachers and lawyers and doctors and business owners, and retirees – plus a wild turkey and a couple coyotes.  Small, brick apartment buildings are nestled next to homes with urban gardens; on our street is a two-screen movie theater that shows indie and foreign films, several locally owned restaurants, a wine shop, a few new clothing boutiques and a family-owned grocery store.  It’s a lot of people who are smart, witty, warm, and friendly and who want their community to reflect that sense.  They get to know us and we notice when they’re gone – it’s like an extended family, when you consider all the hugs that get doled out.

I promise you won’t find this at any other store: Collections of Band-Aid tins, space rocks, Pez dispensers, model horses, pin cushions, and ceramic and porcelain Boston Terrier curios. Why?  We have two glass display cabinets that feature rotating displays of personal, ephemera-on-a-theme from booksellers and customers.  One time a customer used an inquiry about the Band-Aid tins as a ruse to ask me out on a date (FAIL).

Why I do what I do: I believe that books have the power to change lives and by helping connect people to them, I become a gateway to effecting great, positive change in the world.  Like the guy who told me about his ex-girlfriend calling him to say she’s been in Maine for the last few years and that he’s the father of her child and wanted to know if there was a book that could help him – I recommended a road atlas, a parenting book and a relationship book.  On Thanksgiving I was at the dog park chatting up a woman, when her husband turned and said “Don’t we see you in Boswell’s?” and I knew his name.  Or, there was the kid who said to me, “You recommended a book to me a year ago and it was the best thing I’ve ever read. Thank you.”  That.  Hearing that is why I do what I do.  That, and it’s not such a bad gig getting to wear a Llama costume, meet amazing authors, make a pirate ship from boxes & galleys, and drink with other book people (writers and booksellers alike).

If I weren’t selling books I’d be: Dumpster-diving behind the bookstore.  Lurking in libraries.  Oh, you mean for work?  Maybe, driving around visiting authors as a media escort?  Cleaning the bathroom in the Algonquin Books office?  I have no idea.  I’ve never really, truly known what to do with my life.

Books that changed my life: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, all of Shakespeare, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, The Art of Living by Epictetus, The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Top three authors, living or dead, I’d invite to my dinner party: Hoping that each author might also bring a friend: Margaret Atwood (Graeme Gibson), Tom Franklin (William Gay) and Ernest Hemingway (Stein? Joyce?).  Is that cheating?

Top three songs on the soundtrack to my life: This was so difficult, I had to make a playlist to help.  There were 23 songs on it!

Who I am – “Lady is a Tramp” by Ella Fitzgerald

Present theme song – “Hang on Little Tomato” by Pink Martini

After a few drinks – “Rain Dogs” by Tom Waits.


My last meal request:  My mom’s cheesecake.

10 Comments On This Post:

December 6, 2011
10:27 am
Stacey Gill says...

Loved, loved, loved this post. Love your voice & what you do & the Llama suit. You should talk to my friend Jenny Milchman. She started Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day – do u participate? Just had it’s 2nd annual even on 12/3.

December 7, 2011
10:37 am
Hannah JB says...

Yay Stacie!

December 7, 2011
1:10 pm
Valerie Laken says...

Love it, Stacie! We’re so lucky to have you & Boswell in Milwaukee.

December 7, 2011
2:27 pm
Daniel Goldin says...

I laughed! I cried! This profile was better than “Cats.”*


*Stacie owns a cat costume.

December 8, 2011
1:23 am
Maryke says...

What the frack! I did not know you liked Battlestar G. I loved it. And a cat?

Bar those little details, and I remembered how much I miss you, and Boswell. Luckily I still have books.

Eugenides is on my list.

December 8, 2011
2:45 pm
Stacie Michelle Williams says...

Thanks guys, Algonquin rocks, so it’s an honor to represent Boswell on this blog!

Daniel, I’ve got a whole costume box of surprises waiting for the right event! 🙂

Maryke, it’s true, I loved Battlestar G. – watched it all last Fall/Winter and am now making a friend watch it so I get to see occasional episodes a second time. It’s quite good. You are also missed here. XO

December 8, 2011
10:35 pm
John ( from Florida) says...

Stacie, I’ve been in too many bookstores to ever count. Spent an hour in Boswell last July and chatted with you to get some ideas—–WOW, this woman knows soooo much about books, authors—–and customer service too—-and in an incredible store. On my next trip to Mke in early January I will be by again—-the store, Daniel, you and your colleagues are collectively a national treasure.

December 9, 2011
8:30 pm
Stacie Michelle Williams says...

John (from Florida)! Didn’t you buy a copy of Alyson Hagy’s story collection, Ghosts of Wyoming? How fortuitous that I’d mention her forthcoming novel in this profile… We’ll be happy to have you in again come January. Cheers!

December 14, 2011
9:34 am
Linda says...

It’s funny how my life has changed since I have started university and study English Literature. My perception of books, libraries, and book stores has exponentially widened. I am glad that there is people as passionate about books like you out there who want to make a bridge for others.

January 6, 2013
4:56 pm
Chris says...

You are “fantastic!” Thanks for the suggestions today, I can’t wait to start them. I look forward seeing you at the store when I stop in again.

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