5 Questions with Jessica Strand, editor of Upstairs at the Strand

Jessica Strand isn’t related to anyone at Strand, but she does hail from celebrated poet, and former poet laureate, Mark Strand. She is currently the associate director of public programs at the New York Public Library, but served as the events director for a number of years right here at the Strand, hosting conversations between some of the biggest literary talent in the country. Her book, Upstairs at the Strand, collects a number of these conversations, as well as behind-the-scenes commentary.

  1. You grew up the daughter of a very famous poet, Mark Strand. Do you write as well? What drew you to working in literary programming?

I wrote stories as a kid and a thesis of short stories in college. I got involved in lifestyle journalism and cookbooks for a while. I’m starting to write again. I have anthology coming out from Chronicle next year, and I’m beginning to research a book on my grandmother who was in the OSS.

I was always interested in readings and programs, when I moved to NYC — actually at The Strand, my life as a cultural programmer began.

2. You worked at Strand for a number of years booking and running the events. What do you see as the most important role of independent bookstores in their communities? How do you see the Strand fulfilling this?

Independent bookstores keep people reading! They keep the interest in books alive with recommendations from a knowledgeable staff, stocking a wide array of books (not just bestsellers) and offering programs that allow the public to hear and meet writers that they may not know or have loved for years.

3. Every few years articles will surface asserting that in the age of digital shopping and ebooks, physical bookstores are becoming irrelevant. With your experience in bookstores as well as at public libraries, how do you respond to such claims?

We need bookstores and libraries. We need the tactile experience of books. Ebooks are light and convenient, but there’s nothing like a real book in your hands, turning the pages, the weight of it, the smell of it.

4. What was the funniest encounter you’ve had with an author or guest while directing events at Strand?

So hard to say. There were many! More than anything else it was the wonderful correspondences I had with writers that I had while working at the Strand. Outside of the publicists, etc. I would decide I wanted someone to come to the Strand and the emails back and forth were sometimes really great!

5. What’s one piece of Strand lore you think more people should know?

That Ben Bass started the Strand with $300 dollars of his own money and $300 dollars of a friend’s money. Amazing, I don’t care if it was 1926. And now look, the Strand is one of the great bookstores in the world.

BONUS: What books have you picked up recently that have caught your fancy? List a few favorites for us to share.

I love Valeria Luiselli and Alejandro Zambra. I just read the new Dana Spiotta. I just interviewed her for my show Books at Noon. It’s a really, really interesting book.

Upstairs at the Strand was published March 21 by W.W. Norton and is available to purchase here.

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