The Literary Life of the Island

It Takes a Village

Coronado is known for its beaches and surf lifestyle. But, it has an equally deep literary history, not least of which is due to Coronado’s connection to L. Frank Baum, the creator of the Wizard of Oz. This literary life may be the offspring of individual artists who have spent time in Coronado, and individual philanthropists, such as John D. Spreckels, who funded the original Coronado library building. But it has now come to encompass a web of relationships between different organizations, and it is really kept alive by the whole “village” of interested individuals, organizations and businesses.

Coronado Arts logoOne could say that the Coronado Cultural Arts Commission (CCAC) was founded to serve as a sort of umbrella coordinator of art events in Coronado. It was created by the City Council in 2011 with a mission to “serve and partner with Coronado’s many local artists and cultural arts organizations, and to act as a catalyst in further developing a vibrant and cohesive arts community, strengthening arts education, enhancing cultural tourism and economic development.”

The CCAC’s Literary Arts Program partners with local organizations, such as the Coronado Public Library, and businesses, such as Bay Books to further enhance the already existing literary life on the island.

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The Coronado Public Library

I visited the Coronado Public Library yesterday to talk to the Principal Librarian, Franklin Escobedo, about the activities the library sponsors that contribute to the literary life of the island, most notably, the upcoming 2018 Coronado Community Read program. As I approached the building, there was a man playing a guitar on a bench next to the library, scores of children playing in Spreckels Park across the street, and many students buying coffees and snacks at the coffee stand on the library patio. While it might have seemed as though all of the youth of Coronado were outside the library, activity inside was just as lively (well, maybe not quite so lively, since libraries are somewhat quiet places! But there were many patrons inside, both young and old).

My family and I recently moved to Coronado and one of the things we really loved about it when we visited was the public library. In most of the towns we have lived in, the libraries have become rather underutilized and underfunded. Some have even been shut down or have ridiculously shortened hours. Certainly, they could not be described as a literary hub, which the Coronado Public Library can be.

Mr. Escobedo did disappoint me slightly by not telling me which book had won the Coronado Community Read vote. That information will be announced in October at the CCAC Meeting. So, on that I would have to wait. Our conversation was otherwise delightful because Escobedo highlighted a number of other activities the library has for the Coronado literary community. These events (as well as the library’s local authors list that runs to more than 60 authors) highlight that the literary life includes both those who are avid readers as well as so many individuals who are writers.

For readers, the library hosts three books clubs – the Mystery Book Club, the Saturday Book Club (that primarily focuses on non-fiction books), and the Spoilers Book Club (that discusses books along with their film counterparts). The next meetings for those clubs and the books they will be discussing, in turn, are: Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie, Monday, October 16, 2 pm; The Zookeeper’s Wife, by Diane Ackerman, Saturday, October 7, 1pm; The Circle, by Dave Eggers (and 2017 movie), Saturday, September 30, 2:30 pm.

The library also hosts a number of activities to foster reading among younger readers, including story hours for various age groups in both English and Spanish, summer reading club, and teen reading club.

In addition to hosting readers, the library encourages writing through several programs and groups. For instance, the Coronado Scribes is a group of writers that meet weekly at the library for reading and listening, but also has poetry jams and readings (as well as having published a book, Coronado on My Mind). All of the Scribe events are open to the public.

Additionally, the library hosts a journaling workshop (that requires sign-up) and partners with the CCAC and Bay Books to bring the the Writers Workshop to Coronado. The workshop has a variety of sessions including those on developing your writing as well as promoting your work on social media. In 2016, the workshop brought together 75 writers and attendees hoping to hone their craft.

Coronado Community Read 2018But, back to the initial focus of my conversation with Mr. Escobido – the 2018 Coronado Community Read Program. Last year was the inaugural year for the program. The CCAC website describes the program as one “that aims to bring the entire community together with the shared read of one book.” Last year’s book was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. The program included a number of discussions and events centered around the themes of the novel, including a talk on medical ethics, a film showing, and a concert.

Community Read 2018 FinalistFor this year’s program, nominations were accepted from the public, and a public vote was held to determine the still-to-be-announced winner. 42 titles were nominated, including the six finalists: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline; The House at Sugar Beach, by Helene Cooper; Barbarian Days, A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan; And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini; The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams; The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough. According to Escobido, there were over 300 votes and a clear favorite. Soon, we will know what that favorite is.

Bay Books

I also spent some time with Angelica Muller, the owner of Bay Books – another Coronado hub of literary life. While there has been some speculation as to what is going to happen to Bay Books, given the relatively recent sale of the Coronado Assemblage properties (including Bay Books), rest assured, Bay Books has no plans to leave! As Muller told me, she has already purchased her Christmas season stock. And, she added that the best way for the community to support its only independently-owned bookstore is to come in and buy books.

Bay Books is a Coronado institution. It was established in 1990 by Shirley Muller, the mother-in-law of the current owner. But, as Muller (the current owner) tells it, the family had a long history with books stretching back to Mexico and a generation before that of her mother-in-law, when the family owned the first English-language bookstore in Mexico City.

Business has not always been smooth sailing over the years. In fact, Muller told me that her initial thought at taking over the bookstore was that it would likely have to be closed. But, she was game to give it a go – the history of the store and the importance of a bookstore to the island were driving forces. She has managed to keep it going through the last few years in large part because of loyal customers – some of whom are summer residents who, each summer, request a set of books ahead of time that they can purchase when they arrive. But, it is also in part because of the restructuring of the store to include gift items.

And, of course, Bay Books strives to have a lively event program. Mr. Escobido, from the library, had mentioned the library’s partnership with Bay Books as one of the highlights of the library’s events. He said, “It’s one of the last small, independent bookstores in the country. It’s nice to have them host events in the Winn Room.” He pointed to last year’s event with New York Times best-selling author, Steve Martini, that drew over 100 attendees.

The next partnered event with Bay Books will be a reading and book signing with David Clary, author of Gangsters to Governors, on October 19, at 6:30 p.m., in the Winn Room at the Library. The book is about the evolution of American gambling from an illicit activity into a state-run enterprise. The author is a news editor at the San Diego Union Tribune.

At a time when the literary life of the country, and maybe even the world, appears to be undergoing substantial changes, with the advent of Amazon, e-books, texting, Twitter, and stuff I have not even encountered yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my children have, Coronado retains a rich literary life. Because of the commitment of the community, the City Council, and its businesses, the literary life of the island goes on.

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Luan Troxel
Luan’s background spans a range of industries from academia to management consulting to investment banking. Along the way, she earned an undergraduate degree in political science at Northwestern University, a PhD in the same field from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Columbia University. She has lived on both coasts and many states in between, as well as in Bulgaria and Germany. Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to manager@coronadotimes.com