Novelist and Unbound Book Festival founder and director Alex George is adding another title to his list of accomplishments: indie bookseller. The author of A Good American (Putnam, 2012) and Setting Free the Kites (Putnam, 2017) will open Unbound Books in mid to late-August in Columbia, Mo.
The 3,000-square-foot retail space, on the ground floor of a commercial building, is located on the college town’s lively Ninth Street, in the heart of its downtown area. Carrie Koepke, who was a bookseller for eight years at the now-defunct Tiger Tales indie bookstore, will serve as manager at Unbound Books.
George launched the Unbound Book Festival in Columbia in 2016 as a one-day event with a prior evening keynote that drew 4,000 people. Last year’s weekend-long festival featured Salman Rushdie as its keynote and drew 8,000 people. This year’s event will span from April 19-21, and feature 65 authors (including keynote speaker Zadie Smith). The April festival will also include a one-day program exclusively for students.
At Winter Institute this January, George attended the workshop for prospective booksellers, but at that time said he was ambivalent about opening a bookstore, concerned about how he'd find the time to manage it while overseeing the festival and trying to write. Ultimately, though, he opted to "take a leap of faith” and forge ahead. Junot Diaz’s “heartfelt plea” to Wi13 booksellers to stock and handsell diverse books ultimately convinced him. “I turned to Carrie as soon as Diaz [concluded his presentation] and said, 'We have to do this,'” George said.
While Unbound Books will be a full-service general bookstore, George intends to stock it with “a killer literary fiction section,” as well as a section that he will highlight books on writing and literature. The mezzanine will contain the store’s children’s book department.
George hopes to use the connections he has made as an author and the founder of the festival to attract prominent authors to the store. Calling Columbia a “real literary town” which is home to three colleges and universities, as well as the indie publisher Unbridled Books, George noted that the one thing the town lacked was a proper bookstore.
"There’s no indie bookstore here, and that seems like a huge gap,” George said. (There was an indie bookstore in the town 10 years ago, in the same space where Unbound Books will be.) George, a British expat, said that, after moving to Columbia from Europe 14 years ago, he bought a painting by a local artist of the façade of the very building that will house his store.
“It feels like fate, like it was meant to be,” he said.