F. Scott Fitzgerald slept here. Zelda died here. Ringed by range after range of mountains in Western North Carolina, Asheville is haunted by literary ghosts, but its writing scene is still very much alive, with authors including National Book Award-winner Charles Frazier and Water for Elephants author Sara Gruen making their homes in town. There’s a rich variety of independent bookstores staffed by well informed booksellers, and a lively book arts scene developed here in the early 2000s with a good number of book artists and letterpress printers still in the area today. Coming to Asheville? Put these places on your list.
Perennially on national lists of best independent bookstores, Malaprops has been a vibrant local institution since 1982. The café is a local gathering space and the selection of books is matched by outstanding bookseller expertise. Book events are held nearly daily, with lots of signed copies on hand as a result. 55 Haywood Street,
Downtown Books and News
This sister store of Malaprops features used books (some rare) as well as a newsstand with a collection of small press and hard-to-find publications and a zine section. A place for leisurely visit browsing the eclectic offerings. 67 N. Lexington, 253.8654
Part bar, part coffee shop, part bookstore, this elegant hybrid at the historic Grove Arcade has a magical combination of atmosphere and merchandise. Well-behaved dogs snooze on the oriental carpets under floor-to-ceiling bookshelves stacked with everything from Southern fiction to used how-to and craft books. Patrons sip champagne or coffee on leather club sofas and book groups hold discussions and sometimes buy a book. Known for its nooks and crannies, it’s the perfect bookstore to get lost in. 1 Page Ave. #101, Asheville at the Grove Arcade, 252-0020
A little like stepping back in time, Captain’s is a used and rare bookstore the way they used to be, with jazz playing softly in the background and a collection of high-brow books in excellent condition. Signed first editions and volumes with rare bindings are among the stock. The store also offers appraisals. 31 Page Ave, 253-6631.
A center for book arts in Asheville, BookWorks offers ongoing printmaking and book arts workshops, but also houses a gallery and a selection of handmade books and broadsides for sale. Scheduled to close mid-2019. 428 ½ Haywood Road, Asheville, 255-8444.
Something of a hidden gem in the River Arts District, this letterpress printer has a small selection of broadsides and cards for sale. 191 Lyman St. 253-3711.
Asheville is the hometown of Thomas Wolfe, who notoriously fictionalized the city and its denizens in “Look Homeward, Angel.” The author’s life and legacy is on view here in the former boarding house run by Wolfe’s mother. You can tour the home and there’s also a gift store where you can purchase books by and about Wolfe as well as other local authors.
The final resting place of O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) and Thomas Wolfe, where visitors often leave pens and pencils in front to the tombstone.
A new 90-minute downtown walking tour, on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays and by special arrangement.
Joanne O’Sullivan is a freelance writer and editor and book and paper arts enthusiast based in Asheville, NC.