Dawnell Smith | Opening in 2018: The Writer’s Block

By Dawnell Smith (and on behalf of her Block partners: Vered Mares, Teeka Ballas, Kathy McCue)

In the fall of 2015, we walked into the Adults Only sex store on Spenard Road in Anchorage to lay the groundwork for building a community bookstore art space and cafe. The property held not just a storied past, but the stories of people trying to survive and make sense of their lives.

The Writer’s Block Bookstore & Café has risen up in that space because the community has helped lift it. We all want to make sense of our lives, and books, art, and gathering spaces help us do it.

At The Block, storytelling will continue to resonate through the books, music, artwork, performance, and conversation that happen when people gather and create. Formal or not, the sharing of experiences and ideas helps us see what we once missed, and care about what we once dismissed.

The tall fortress-like fence that once surrounded the old sex store has long since vanished. We tore it down years ago. In its wake, at long last—a building with many windows and a clear line of sight to the neighborhoods we belong to and support.

Those neighborhoods extend beyond surveyed lines and street signs. They reach across the city and state to where Alaskans document our time, or imagine another; to where people live the storied lives that reflect us all; to where the keepers of facts and tales absorb and release them with care.

Our mission to support Alaska writers and makers will thread through The Block’s offerings, from the menu of locally made international comfort foods and beers from small neighborhood breweries, to events that nourish book clubs, knitting groups, kids’ literacy, theatrical expressions, and much more.

As the community engages and helps define the bookstore café, we will see patterns emerge that help us collectively make sense of life, at least while sitting with a good cup of coffee or wine, savoring words, catching the small phrasings of under-stories.

Seriously coming soon!
We lost the 2016 construction season, and then permitting delays and unexpected engineering requirements pushed a 2017 opening out of reach, but we’re opening in January 2018.

That’s a hard date. We know this for sure, because one storyteller (one of us) and the hosts of Arctic Entries spoke it out loud in front of 1,600 people last week.

So how can writers and community members get involved?

A piece of The Block
We started a Writer’s Block Community Investment Fund to invite our supporters and community members to get a piece of The Block. Participants in the fund will support the first year of operations by investing in things like the opening book inventory, building and landscape completion, outreach and licenses, and the coordination of readings, concerts and performances.

We feel incredibly grateful to the commitment of our community supporters and investors. For more information, contact us at info@writersblockak.com.

What about books and other works?
We have built our opening inventory through local and national sources, but our vision includes putting an emphasis on Alaska writers and works. We will hold author readings and workshops, and use visual methods to draw customers to Alaska titles and writers.

We will also stock books, craft items, artwork and other items on consignment. We will soon roll out information on how to contribute, but feel free to contact us at info@writersblockak.com if interested.

We already have gift certificates on sale online and will ship them anywhere in the U.S.

What’s happening at The Block?
We welcome a range of events and activities at The Block, from homework and writing groups to debates, comedy, music and performance. The simple, but ample stage and intimate seating will suit listening sessions with singer songwriters, storytellers, poets, and others.

We intend to do Sunday brunch concerts and monthly readings, among other things, and respond to those looking for a place to share what they do and make. If you want to hold an event at The Block or get on our email list to get updates on what’s happening, send us a note: info@writersblockak.com.

Block food and beverages
Studying, researching, reading, writing, thinking, conniving—it all requires fuel. Our menu will focus on good-value international comfort food, with soups, sandwiches, side dishes, and a simple, but changing menu.

We may not quite have our alcohol license when we open, but we will soon. We will have local beers on tap, literary wines by the glass, a selection of teas and canned drinks, plus coffee by a small-batch roaster.

Block jobs
We’re well into our hiring process, but we always welcome resumes from collaborative, book-loving folks who want to work in our kitchen and bookstore café. Right now, we’re particularly interested in people who know their way around a kitchen and have food management experience. Find out more in our job posting.

Dawnell Smith lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska, with her partner, kids, rescue dogs and renegade shrews. She makes a living in the nonprofit and gig economy. She’s also a managing partner with The Writer’s Block Bookstore & Cafe. When slivers of time allow, she writes essays, poems and other mixed-genre literary work. She is the recipient of a 2015 Rasmuson Fellowship. 

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