A Man and a Dream
In the last seven years, Tulsa has become a book lover’s paradise due in large part to Jeff Martin, founder of Booksmart Tulsa. It began in 2009 when Jeff created a “BookPub” in Tulsa in order to make his cultural life, and that of the surrounding community, more complete. He held the book club’s first meeting at McNellie’s Public House expecting a few dozen people. Instead, more than 300 eager participants showed up and Martin knew he had a great concept.
“What began as a hobby transformed into a major endeavor,” says Martin. Booksmart quickly morphed from a very large book club into one-of-a-kind literary events featuring well-known authors for talks and book signings. “We get writers here through publisher partnerships, my relationships with authors and recommendations from writers who have come for our events and then pass the word on to their colleagues,” says Martin. Martin credits Dwelling Spaces owner, Mary Beth Babcock, for helping the organization get off of the ground through generating new ideas and providing event space.
Some of the more well-known authors who have visited Tulsa include David Sedaris, Elizabeth Gilbert, Salman Rushdie and Stephen King. Booksmart events featuring ‘big name’ authors draw between 1,000-2,000 people. Events with a fresh, young novelist with a new buzz-worthy book attract 50-100 people. Martin says, “Each event is special in its own way. Each is a unique curated experience. Not just a talk. Not just a book signing. The attention to detail is what really makes Booksmart stand out on a regional and national level. It’s unique.”
The kind of vision and work to grow Booksmart from a book club to attracting to the top echelon of authors in six years is credited to Martin’s tenacity and long range vision. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this without people like Teresa Miller of the Oklahoma Center for Poets & Writers and Francine Ringold, former editor of the Nimrod Journal, blazing a trail,” says Martin. “In the early days we begged authors to come to Tulsa and pounded the pavement reaching out to local hotels for room donations, to venues for free meeting space and to airlines for free miles.” Once Martin created an identity for Booksmart, persuading authors to come to Tulsa has become easier because of the successful track record of the organization and Tulsans’ passionate appetite for all things literary. Events scheduled for the next three months include CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin, mega-bestselling thriller writer Karin Slaughter, Jodi Picoult and a can’t-miss kids event with Captain Underpants author and illustrator, Dav Pilkey. Most events are free and open to all with no RSVP required. Some events require the purchase of a book for two seats and more can be found on the website at booksmarttulsa.com.
With the success of Booksmart, Jeff and a host of others formed the Tulsa Literary Coalition (TLC) in 2015, a 5013C non-profit led by Executive Director Cindy Hulsey, formerly of the Tulsa City-County Library. Martin serves as the board president. “Cindy is my partner in crime for this next phase of our literary adventure and I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather have at the helm. We have several additional people on the board and an outstanding board of advisors including authors Ann Patchett, Jonathan Franzen and Nancy Pearl,” says Martin.
The mission of the TLC is to keep the love of books and reading alive. With the closing of Steve’s Sundries in Midtown Tulsa a few years ago, Martin and the TLC realized the need for a new independent bookstore and created the concept of Magic City Books. With the help of the George Kaiser Family Foundation providing a location, Magic City will open in the Brady District in early 2017 at the corner of Archer and Detroit. This will be no ordinary book store but a “Third Place” – a place where people congregate other than work or home. As a project of the TLC, the book store will indeed be a magic space full of books and places to meet friends for a coffee or a glass of wine.
Martin has surely created a community for Tulsans who love to read and connect. “My dream is to get Magic City Books established and then perhaps in 2020, attempt a weekend-long book festival with dozens of authors, vendors, food and music.” When asked what drives him to achieve so much, Martin said, “It’s hard to know why your interests go a certain way. I guess I’ve always been endlessly curious. And the world of books was always the best place to quench that thirst. I like being in the world of ideas. I always have.”
If Martin could choose his ideal “Third Place,” it would most likely be a quaint get-together at Magic City Books discussing the issues of the day with “Ernest Hemingway, Julia Child and Larry David. Now that sounds interesting!”