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SOCIETY

Landmark Booksellers SANCTUARY OF SOUTHERN LIT

Story and photography by

W

JR SULLIVAN

hen I was 16 I stumbled into Landmark Booksellers in Franklin, Tenn., hunting a Kurt Vonnegut paperback about aliens and time travel. An hour later, I emerged instead with an armful of William Gay novels, unsure of exactly what I’d purchased. Nothing against Vonnegut, proprietor Joel Tomlin had assured me, but he said that I — as a good, young Southerner — shouldn’t waste my time with space-aged romps until I first appreciated my native land and its writings. Tomlin had sized me up, my naivety palpable. Though reared in the region, I knew nothing about Southern literature — much less Gay, Middle Tennessee’s most heralded (and hermetic) author of the past 20 years. Later, I’d learn the writer himself favored Landmark as a hangout, appearing at the store, by Tomlin’s count, more than at any other literary establishment. When picking through the stacks of Dixie’s finest, both the beloved and the seldom brought up, it becomes apparent why: Landmark stands not only as a sanctuary for paper and ink, but also as a crossroads where the South’s established and emerging voices converge, weighing equally on one another. 122

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