Despite its reputation as a movie town, the Southland is loaded with excellent bookstores and literary venues that host world-class readings. Dating back to Charles Bukowski, the Watts Writers Workshop, punk rock poetry and the Venice beats, a diverse legacy of writers have made their mark in the bookstores and venues of Los Angeles. Here are a few of the best venues that deliver books and feature live readings.
681 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291
Beyond Baroque in Venice is a historic venue where literary giants like Allen Ginsberg, Gwendolyn Brooks and Hubert Selby Jr. have graced the stage. The seminal punk band X met at the Beyond Baroque poetry workshop. Besides their events and workshops, they have a bookstore with several shelves of hard-to-find poetry titles. Established in 1968 by George Drury Smith, the site is the former Venice Town Hall. The legendary Wednesday night writing workshop from the early days produced legendary Los Angeles poets like Laurel Ann Bogan, Michael C. Ford, Wanda Coleman, Jack Grapes, Paul Vangelisti, Bill Mohr & John Harris. The legacy continues stronger than ever, check their calendar for more.
Eso Won Books
4331 Degnan Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90008
When looking for Jamaican Dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson’s book I went to Eso Won Books in Leimert Park. Sure enough they had it and saved me from pressing the Amazon button. Eso Won carries a great collection of African-American Literature, Black Arts poetry and political books. They also have hard to find titles in Egyptology and the Zodiac. They frequently host readings with authors like Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Spike Lee. Bill Clinton even showed up recently. Across the street is the World Stage, known for live jazz and poetry. The landscape of Leimert Park was originally designed by the celebrated landscape architects the Olmstead Brothers back in the Roaring Twenties. Eso Won Books is in the Leimert Park Village along with several retail boutiques, coffeehouses and eateries. While you’re in the area, check out Ackee Bamboo down the street - they have excellent Jamaican food.
2000 E. 1st St. Los Angeles, CA 90033
David Kipen knows books better than just about anybody in Southern California. The former Book Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, Kipen is also a well-respected Film Critic. He started Libros Schmibros in Summer 2010 in Boyle Heights to help house the over 7,000 books he had in storage. As a firm believer in the power of literature, Kipen opened Libros Schmibros to serve the community, creating a lending library and used bookstore. Libros Shmibros is located on East First Street across the street from Corazon del Pueblo, a lively gallery theater and performance space.
Hennessey & Ingalls Books
Hollywood: Space 15 Twenty, 1520 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Suite 8, Los Angeles, CA 90028, 323.466.1256
Santa Monica: 214 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401, 310.458.9074
When looking for “Delirious New York,” by Rem Koolhaas I knew I would find it at Hennessey & Ingalls, the Art & Architecture Bookstore now with two locations. They never disappoint, carrying loads of coffee table books on architects, painters, photography, fashion, graphic design, furniture, interior decoration and esoteric retrospectives. They also have an extensive selection of architecture and design magazines. The Hollywood location opened in 2009. The Santa Monica location is on Wilshire near the Promenade.
453 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA, 90013
Last Bookstore is an excellent used bookstore in the Old Bank District of Downtown LA. Holding a great collection of used books in a wide range of genres, most of their titles hover around five dollars. The space is one of the biggest bookstores in the city. Bask in the Beaux-Arts and art deco architecture of LA’s Historic Core and score a few deals on books while you’re at it. They are on Spring Street and Fifth, across from the Alexandria Hotel. They host readings and book signings several nights a week.
1818 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027
Skylight Books in Los Feliz holds court on Vermont Blvd south of Franklin. Skylight is one of the strongest independent bookstores in the country. They have a particularly excellent selection of Los Angeles history, geography and other books of local interest. Recently they’ve opened a second space next door for magazines, graphic novels along with art, architecture and design books. Located in the former space of the legendary Chatterton’s Books, Skylight Books has become a legend in its own right.
Small World Books
1407 Ocean Front Walk, Los Angeles, CA 90291
Small World Books right off the Venice Boardwalk may just have the most comprehensive list of poetry titles in the city. Their “Mystery Annex” in the back is equally stacked with tons of titles. They are located near Horizon, just north of the Windward Circle. Small World is a cozy bookstore, but loaded to the rafters with a reservoir of books and magazines.
1716 Sunset Blvd., LA, CA, 90026
Stories Books & Cafe in Echo Park on Sunset Blvd is packed to the rafters with new and used books. Owned by the same crew of folks that own “The Echo,” they are in cahoots with the local music community. The do-it-yourself ethos of punk rock is everywhere in this store. Besides plenty of fiction and poetry, they have a solid collection of books on metaphysics. Check their coffee bar and small kitchen as well as their back patio for frequent readings. Stories is next door to 826LA, the great afterschool writing center founded by bestselling author Dave Eggers.
Tia Chucha Centro Cultural
13197-A Gladstone Ave., Sylmar, CA 91342
Tia Chucha Centro Cultural is a bookstore/gallery/performance space founded by best-selling author of “ALWAYS RUNNING,” Luis Rodriguez. Originally Rodriguez planned to locate in East LA, but his wife Trini suggested Sylmar because this part of the Valley lacks bookstores and galleries. Tia Chucha’s is more than a bookstore; it is a cultural arts center featuring Chicano history, indigenous, contemporary and social commentary issues, Spanish-language, and bilingual children's books. When he’s not traveling, Rodriguez is often at the space, sharing poems and conducting workshops.
photography by Wasim Muklashy