Dispatches from a Cultural Guerrillera

De músico, poeta y loco todos tenemos un poco.

Deborah Méndez Wilson

Deborah Méndez Wilson
Denver Metro Area, Colorado, USA
August 24
Colorín Colorado Communications
I'm a fifth-generation Coloradan whose Spanish/Pueblo Indian family roots run hundreds of years deep in the U.S. Southwest. I am a Westerner, through and through, and can't imagine living anywhere else in the United States. The Colorado/New Mexico territory is my ancestral homeland. _______________________________ I am a mother of two and grandmother of one, but don't expect me to conform to anachronistic, enshrined stereotypes of what a woman is supposed to be or do in the autumn of her life. _______________________________ I am a professionally trained journalist who loves to blog, too. I earned my 10,000 hours while working as a daily journalist, and unabashedly worship at the altar of English. _______________________________ Though English is my native language and I adore it, I am fluent in Spanish because I lived in South America for a decade, and revel in the vibrant, haunting beauty of Castilian and Latin American cultures, histories and dialects. ¡Que viva el Español! _______________________________ Follow me on Twitter: @DebMendezWilson


Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 28, 2011 11:13AM

The Tattered Cover

Rate: 11 Flag


It’s a must-see stop for presidents, celebrities, writers and book lovers of every stripe. The Tattered Cover, founded by a fierce defender of free expression, literacy, and readers' rights, is one of the nation's most renowned bookstores, and a beloved Colorado tradition.

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. – His presidential limo pulled up to the curb outside the 1880s-circa brick building in lower downtown Denver, and the ruddy-faced commander-in-chief dashed in to walk the bookstore's creaky wood planks. Former President Bill Clinton swung by on a whim during a 1990s fundraising trip to stock up on the latest best-sellers, and to soak up the rustic, Western charm of Denver's legendary, independently owned the Tattered Cover.

Other local and national politicians, celebrities, writers, illustrators and book lovers of every stripe have followed suit. Does a greater bookstore exist in the world? If it does, I don't know where it is. It has to be our very own Tattered Cover. Owner Joyce Meskis is considered one of the nation's guiding forces of independent bookselling, and a steadfast advocate for literacy, free expression, and the rights of readers. This year marks the bookstore's 40th anniversary, and so many good memories are flooding out, especially as we write about the contributions of independently owned bookstores across the country.


Founded in 1971, Meskis' bookstore today has three locations: the store in historic Lower Downtown Denver, another in a converted theater on Colfax Avenue, and the third in my suburban neighborhood, some 15 miles south of downtown Denver. All are great places to find the latest titles, hear authors talk about their work, meet with reading clubs, or just sit back and people watch. The bookstore has played host to hundreds of authors, averaging about 400 a year.

Among the literary and other creative luminaries who have graced the Tattered Cover with their wit, charm, elegance and style are Cormac McCarthy, Kurt Vonnegut, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dave Eggers, Michael Chabon, J.K.Rowling, Ansel Adams, President Barack Obama, Julia Child, David Sedaris, Barbara Kingsolver, Erica Jong, Annie Proulx, Amy Tan, Umberto Eco, and Aspen's own Hunter S. Thompson among many others.

Over the years, my family has made pilgrimmages, too.

At the original Cherry Creek store, my children and I sat on the floor to immerse ourselves in pop-ups, masterfully drawn picture books, and Newbery Medal winners. Afterward, we sat in overstuffed chairs sipping from giant cups of café au lait or Earl Greyand cradling our crisp brown Tattered Cover paper bagsWe watched as wide-eyed newbies walked in, stopped and looked around, stunned by the sheer volume of books, magazines, newspapers, brain teasers, greeting cards, journals, posters and other essential accoutrements for readers in the Rocky Mountain West. 

When the bookstore expanded to lower downtown, or LoDo, near the Associated Press bureau where I once worked, I trekked with friends and family to hear favorite authors read from their work, and share their thoughts about writing and storytelling.

New York Times writer Rick Bragg signed his heart-breakingly beautiful memoir All Over But the Shoutin' for me, and talked to me about the challenges of daily journalism. Chilean novelist Isabel Allende charmed us with her wit and humor before signing copies of La Hija de la Fortuna. I reminded her that I had interviewed her in her home in Caracas years earlier, and she graciously tried to remember the meeting while signing books for my daughter and me. Another time, legendary rock climber Lynn Hill regaled my husband and me (along with hundreds of other fans) with stories of her exploits on rock faces around the world. Then we lingered to talk to the diminutive but powerful athlete, and asked her to sign her memoir, Free Climbing: My Life in the Verticle World.

Forget e-books. Nothing is more beautiful than a shelf filled with books, especially those signed by favorite authors you've met in your local, independently owned bookstore.


After we moved to the suburbs, the Highlands Ranch branch became our go-to Tattered Cover, where we have spent weekends reading, snacking, and treasuring the worlds of J.K. Rowling and Rick Riordan, or searching the shelves for Colorado history books, biographies for Einstein, Green Day, and The Clash, or the latest New York Times picks. Every Friday, the bookstore hosts a pajama party for families who want to share their passion for books and reading with their children. I can't tell you how many times I've run to Tattered Cover on a week night to buy a copy of The Lightning Thief or some other Riordan book so my son could finish a reading response assignment. (I'm heading out the door now, in fact. It's only a mile from our home, in the Highlands Ranch Town Center).

On weekday nights, we've popped in to hear local authors. Sometimes, if we are really lucky, we will unwittingly stumble upon someone like Charles C. Mann, the author of "1491" and "1493." At one memorable evening reading and slide show, Mann shared revelation after revelation about the history of the Americas, and challenged everything we thought we knew about Columbus, Spanish conquistadores, and the indigenous people who have lived in the Americas for millennia, long before Europeans and others began arriving in droves.

Sure. The nucleus of the publishing world is New York, but the center of the reading world in Denver is the Tattered Cover bookstore. For those of us who reside in the middle of this great land mass we call North America, it is nothing less than our connection to the wide world.





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Deborah, this is a wonderful tribute to The Tattered Cover! I first heard about the store about 25 years ago when one of my cousins went to work there and all of these years later she is still enjoying her job at the historic downtown branch.
Designanator: My husband and I have always joked that when we retire, his "retirement job" will be at REI, and mine will be at Tattered Cover!
a 30yr denverite up there? Im a 41yr native. and tattered cover is one of the best features of denver. heres a big secret, theres a cool bike trail that runs right thru cherry crk shopping mall. alas! the best tattered cover loc at cherry crk has moved.. probably due to gentrification & very high rent in that area! colfax loc/store just doesnt have the same zing. and I really liked popping into the cherry crk loc during taste of colorado or during crazy shopping with the sig other!
Thanks to all of you who took the time to read about Denver's legendary locally owned bookstore. You should all definitely visit next time you are in town. The store's personnel are always friendly and helpful, and always willing to help you track down a book. My suburban store doesn't have the charm of the original Cherry Creek store, now defunct, or the LoDo or Colfax branches, but it still has the TC imprint, and it's a great gathering place for our community.

High Lonesome: I've had days like that, too. And thank you for adding more details about Meskis' commitment to upholding the First Amendment. Important. I may dig up that information and plug it into this post.
great tribute to a great store.
I sure do miss the one that used to be over at cherry crk.
ps is it just me or did some comments get deleted? scratching my head
VZN: Sorry I missed your comments below. Yes. All of the original comments were deleted because I asked the OS editors to delete my account a few months ago. I was trying to get away from blogging so much. Turns out that when they restore your account, all of the original comments on your blog disappear. Hope that explains everything!
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