17 February 2015

When You Get to Asheville: Winter Institute 2015

   The lobby at the Renaisance  
So, last week, I traveled to Asheville, NC, with two coworkers to attend the tenth annual Winter Institute, an indie bookseller's conference where all one's bookish dreams come true. Our hotel, the Renaissance, was in a prime location downtown.  It was clean, modern, and comfortable, and directly across the street from the Thomas Wolfe homestead.
the Wolfe homestead
And check out the photo at the top.  How could you not love a hotel that uses books as a decorative statement and names their restaurant The Writer's Bistro? So I was feeling pretty good about our choice, despite the fact that we were staying at the "overflow" hotel for the conference.  The official hotel sold out in less than 24 hours, but I didn't really care about that until we pulled up to it for registration and were greeted with this place:
The Grove Park Inn
Daytime view from the back porch
Well, actually, that's the opposite side of what actually greets you when you drive up, but that side wasn't quite as picturesque.  This is the venerable Grove Park Inn, and it was pretty fabulous.  Getting to hang out there for a few days, even if I wasn't staying overnight, was a privilege. For one thing, it's got some serious literary cred.  F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed here when he was visiting Zelda in the nearby asylum, and he did some writing here.  The hotel has his writing desk, typewriter, and traveling case on permanent display just off the lobby:

For another thing, it has a huge sunset patio that stretches the length of the original wing of the hotel, which was the perfect place to mingle, enjoy a cocktail, and hope for a sign of the elusive Green Flash. Though I never heard it ring, there's a beautiful bell out on the porch (incidentally, it's almost as tall as I am) labeled The Sunset Chime, and I appreciate that.

Waiting for the Green Flash
After grabbing our badges and taking it all in for about thirty minutes, Elli, Joan, and I left Grove Park Inn and headed back downtown.  First stop: Malaprop's.  It's Asheville's pre-eminent indie bookstore and it is a gem.  Full disclosure: I'm also friends with the owner, so it's possible I'm a little biased, but don't take my word for it.  It was voted #1 bookstore in America a few years ago by the good folks at Publishers Weekly.
Emöke B'Racz and me
From fun signage to playful gift items to Dolly Parton cutouts, this store is a gem.  You'll be surprised by how much these good folks can pack into a rather modest square footage.
And why not?

Dolly is a national treasure!
Elli even had a sighting of her first book "in the wild" on the store shelves, which tickled her, and she had the opportunity to sign her photograph on the wall.  Malaprop's had put up photos of all of the featured authors at Winter Institute and Elli was the first to sign.

Emöke with the three Odyssey folk
Here's Elli signing her author photo
After that, it was time to head to the venue for our opening reception, cunningly called The Venue. All 500+ of us booksellers met there, along with authors and publisher sponsors.  It's always a lot of fun to meet up with those folks I usually only see at conferences such as these, but before long the noise was so intense that I had to check out of there a little early.
Random shot holding my camera above my head at The Venue.  I see one book-
seller from Oxford, MS, and a woman from Macmillan whom I know here.  
Joan was invited to a publisher dinner that night, so Elli and I found a restaurant for a light, late dinner. Since this was Elli's first time attending Winter Institute, we went over the general structure of the conference and talked about stuff for the upcoming week.  Oh, and books.  Always books.
Elli, sitting in the Writer's Bistro
We didn't linger over our meal, as we were both pretty tired from our early morning departure from Connecticut.  I knew that it would be the last night I would be returning to the hotel before 11:00 pm, so it was just as well I had one early night with which to pace myself.  So I headed up to the room to watch Downton Abbey instead of going back out.

Because I'm feeling punchy, here's a closing photo of my
reflection + the view outside my hotel room...
...and a glowing skull, to which I say, why not?


  1. Asheville is such a fantastic book city (I stayed in the same hotel for Booktopia!)...it sound like a perfect pick for Winter Institute. I can't wait to hear about all the books you discovered!

    1. Did you stay at Renaissance or The Grove Park Inn? And yes, Asheville is a great destination, isn't it?!

  2. Omg that inn is so pretty; I want to stay there right now.

    Seriously, this whole thing looks really fun. I'm so glad you got to go! And also jealous. But also glad! Malaprop's looks kickass.

    1. You'd love Malaprop's. And Emoke. And Asheville. And the Grove Park Inn. Man, we clearly need to take a serious book roadtrip together one day.

  3. What a bookish dream come true! It's neat that you got to visit some amazing landmarks and check out F. Scott Fitzgerald's things.

    1. Yeah, it was really nifty. I'd visited Asheville before, but I didn't realize quite how deep its literary connections went, beyond Zelda's stay there.

  4. Lovely photos, as always! Whenever you travel somewhere, you make me want to visit there myself :)

  5. What a gorgeous hotel! I would probably just be standing there trying to absorb some kind of literary magic from F. Scott's belongings...

  6. Glad you got to Asheville. I'm a friend of Mary Stevens. I'm in Charlotte. Two NC writers you might enjoy: Kim Wright, The Unexpected Waltz and Karon Luddy, Spelldown and its sequel, The Bewilderment of Boys.

  7. Glad you got to Asheville. I'm a friend of Mary Stevens. I live in Charlotte. Two NC writers you might enjoy: Kim Wright, The Unexpected Waltz; Karon Luddy, Spelldown and its sequel, Bewilderment of Boys.


Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)