of friends and communities, publishing and bookstores

Wendy Welch

This is my friend, Wendy Welch. She is a storyteller, cultural ethnographer, professor, bookstore owner, and author. She crochets, sings, plays the harp, and canes chairs. She is basically an all-around superwoman.

History

I met Wendy about 15 years ago, in grad school at Memorial University of Newfoundland. She was a year ahead of me and getting her PhD in folklore, while I was going for my master’s. I don’t think we ever had classes together, but we’d see and talk to each other in the graduate student room. I didn’t really think we had too much in common at the time (maybe we didn’t talk enough to each other), but she was always quite nice.

Strangely enough, our biggest bond was probably the fact that we were Americans on this big Rock in the Atlantic Ocean. Two distinct (well, actually not so distinct at all) memories I have of Wendy has to do with this bond.

Story 1: A Thanksgiving to Remember (Fuzzily)

One year (it had to be 1997 or 1998, as I was only there a year and a half), Wendy invited the Americans over for American Thanksgiving (Canadians have Thanksgiving on a different date). I’m not really much for Thanksgiving, but I thought I’d go as it was very nice of her to invite us (I think there 3 guests) and I thought I should be more social. I can’t even really remember what we ate or what we talked about. But I do remember what happened after. There was a blizzard.

Wendy lived far away from town, so she had to drive us back (I’m not even sure how we got to her place in the first place). She had a very steep driveway and, by then, it had iced a little. She kept trying to back out to no avail. It must have taken us 10 minutes or more. I was scared that we’d skid badly and drive off the side of the mountain or something. I can’t even remember if we were able to get out or had to call a cab. It doesn’t seem possible that a cab would drive out there to pick us, though, so maybe she did drive us. I just remember that the snow was falling down so thick that it was hard to see. As a Californian, that was my first experience with a blizzard, so I was scared even once we were on the road.

Story 2: Storytelling with Balloons

My last quarter in St. John’s, I lived in a house with a college student. Her mom was away for the quarter, so I was basically subletting her space (bedroom, as well as art studio that I used as my study space) and sharing the common areas. I decided to invite the Americans (same group) over for lunch. I think I made Filipino food or something. (Again, fuzzy on the details). After lunch, Wendy, who I’d always known was a storyteller, regaled us with a story (or did she do two?) I don’t know if Wendy always told stories with balloons or that was just something she happened to be doing at that time. I’m not even quite sure what story(ies) she told us, but it was a fairy tale of some kind. I remember her making yellow braids to represent the princess and a sword for the prince. I think we probably just ended up chatting after that.

Intervening Time

I must have left Newfoundland before Wendy did since I was only doing my master’s. Last I heard, she was living in Scotland in a old schoolhouse (doesn’t that sound fabulous?) with her Scottish husband, Jack. (For you librarians and booklovers, you’ll be jealous to know that she was neighbors and friends with Jane Yolen!) I’m not sure why but I remember looking up Wendy later and it seemed like she was back in the country, organizing folklife festivals.

Present

Fast forward to 2011 or so and, through the miracle of Facebook, I reconnected with Wendy. I found out that she lives in southwestern Virginia and that she and her husband own a bookstore (how fun!), called Tales of the Lonesome Pine. She also teaches cultural ethnography at the local university. I followed her blog about taking a group of college students on an educational tour of Scotland. Soon, I learned (from her status updates) that Wendy was in the throes of editing a book about her starting her bookshop and creating community with(in) it. It was very interesting to learn about the process of editing and getting published from these glimpses.

Wendy and Jack also went on a mini-tour of independent bookstores, and I followed her blog posts about that, too. I haven’t really given much thought to bookstores, especially independent ones, since I’ve begun my career in librarianship since I tend to get my books from libraries. So, it was fascinating and eye-opening to learn about these shops and their owners. And, of course, Wendy is a storyteller, so her stories are always entertaining.

However, what I have been most interested in (and often envious about) are her stories about the bookstore, especially the events that they hold there. Among other things, they host knitters, hold murder mystery nights, and have lots of themed dinners. I often wish I could go, especially for the dinners. As a folklorist, storyteller, and extremely friendly person, it makes absolute sense that Wendy would turn her place into a center of community. And I love that. I love it because I think it’s great to create community, and it really seems like they’ve got a good one. But I think I also love it because I wish that libraries also should be centers of community, and I don’t think we’re as proactive about doing that.

The Book

Wendy’s book, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, came out yesterday. And I couldn’t be more excited! I’ve been following her status updates and blog posts almost religiously (except when I travel, when I don’t have time to keep up). Why I am so excited? So many reasons really:

  1. Wendy is my friend, and it’s exciting to see a friend getting published. Publishing is one of my goals in life, so you know I think it’s an awesome accomplishment. And it couldn’t have happened to a more wonderful person.
  2. It’s even more exciting because I feel like I’ve witnessed the process (the latter part of it anyway) while it’s happening. And now, I get to see the baby.
  3. As I already mentioned, I love her stories about their bookstore and how it’s the center of the community, so I definitely want to read more about it.
  4. It’s about people and communities, and I do like learning about people. That’s why I studied folklore.
  5. Armchair travel books are one of my favorite genres, and I think this could be considered one. Even if I’d never heard of Big Stone Gap before and, therefore, had no interest in going there. Though, trust me, I so would love to go there now!
  6. Wendy is a great storyteller, so I know it will be a good, fun read.
  7. It’s about book about a bookstore and books, for heaven’s sake!

I kept asking Wendy what would be the best way to support her book, and she said that it would be to pre-order from a local bookstore, rather than ordering it online. But I don’t really have a local bookstore. The only thing left is the local Barnes & Noble. In the end, I ordered it from UCLA Bookzone, the campus bookstore. My copy came in yesterday, but I didn’t get the call until I had already left work. So, I picked up my copy today.

Here is Wendy’s book on the shelf, in the biography section right next to Betty White (cool!).

And here I am with my very own copy.

I can’t wait to read the book. In fact, I’m supposed to be reading it right now. But I wanted to write this before I begin reading the book.

I just want to end this by saying, Congrats, Wendy!

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