Chicago bookseller John Presta, who closed his bricks-and-mortar store, Reading on Walden, three years ago, and currently is revamping his online presence, is jumping on the Obama bandwagon in a memoir about his life as an independent bookseller in the Windy City. The Elevator Group, located in a Philadelphia suburb, will publish Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots: How Barack Obama, Two Bookstore Owners, and 300 Volunteers Did It in January 2010. The book focuses on how Presta and his wife, Michelle, worked closely with Barack Obama’s grassroots campaign in 2000, when Obama ran unsuccessfully for Congress, and again in 2004, when Obama won his race for the U.S. Senate. Presta intertwines this first-hand account of his work on Obama’a two political campaigns with reflections on his experiences running an independent bookstore in southwest Chicago.
Presta said that, when his agent, Robert DiForio, shopped around the first version of his memoir, which focused primarily on his bookstore and on independent bookselling in general, with a brief mention of his organizing activities with Obama’s campaign, there was little interest from publishers. But after changing the emphasis of his book, to piggyback on the success of all the books out there about Obama, his family, even his new dog, DiForio made a sale.
The Elevator Group, which was launched last year by Sheilah Vance, has three books in print, with eight more scheduled through March 2010, and five more after that. Specializing in fiction and poetry by African-American authors, Vance told PW that she hopes to publish more nonfiction. Like Presta, Vance hopes to tap into the widespread interest in all things about the president. In that vein, The Elevator Group will publish Obamatyme: Election Poetry by Melody Van Putten this October.
Although Vance could not provide information about print runs yet, her typical first printings have been 3,000-4,000 copies. Vance expects lots of interest for Presta’s work. “It’s almost on a textbook on grassroots organizing, but it’s also an interesting story about a bookseller.”
Elevator Group titles are distributed by Atlas Books/Bookmasters.