Free Expression Friday x Independent Bookstore Day: Lauren Groff's The Lynx

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Lauren Groff is the author of The Vaster Wilds, Matrix, Florida, and others. She is also the owner of the indie bookstore The Lynx, which will have its grand opening in Gainesville, Florida, on April 28 (but will be open on April 27 for Independent Bookstore Day). Earlier this week, she was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2024.



Philomena Polefrone, ABA: Could you tell me a little bit about the Lynx, your new bookstore? 

Lauren Groff: The Lynx is a 2,500-square-foot, general interest bookstore with a special emphasis on banned books, books by LGBTQ+ people, books that are currently under a lot of duress, especially in the state of Florida, because they teach actual history — actual Black history, the things that the people in power don't want people reading. Those are some of the books that we’ll be pushing really, really hard and celebrating. We have an outdoor event space, we have an indoor event space, we're going to have a cafe…I really wanted to create a community space, a space that is open for everyone, a place where you can come in contact with ideas that you may not be able to come in contact with [elsewhere]. I want a space that people in Florida who aren’t where we are — if they don't necessarily live in hyper-progressive Gainesville, which is where the store is opening — they can still feel like there's a place to go where they feel loved and accepted, and [where] we have so many books that will speak to their experience.

PP: Has anything surprised you so far about the process of opening a store or being a bookseller?

LG: [Lauren laughs] Everything? I'm a writer. I'm not a business person. I have an agent for that. It's so difficult. It's so hard. HR stuff, and insurance stuff, and all of the math that one needs…Luckily, I find that I'm actually pretty competent. But even more luckily, I've hired much more competent people than I am. So they will soon be taking over this stuff. I have an operations manager and an events manager, and they're amazing humans. And so, thank God, I will not have to be doing everything very soon.

PP: To that end, have you received any advice or any guidance that you found especially helpful?

LG: I've actually been talking about this idea for 10 years with Mitchell Kaplan from Books & Books. Also, he's just the Godfather. Everybody loves and knows Mitch. And he's in Florida, and he does so many great things with banned books. When you go to the Books & Books in Coral Gables, they have this sign over the doorway that says [“Censorship leaves us in the dark. We Read Banned Books & Books”]. It's very necessary. So he's always been the godfather of my bookstore.

But the first person I called when I thought we were going to do this was Emma Straub, who told me not to do it. When we announced it, Ann Patchett told me, “You fool. I'm so proud of you.” And then one day, I went down to Judy Blume’s bookstore — and she and her husband are the best humans on the planet. They pulled me to the side and they told me so many things that I needed to do. And I would love to be a bookseller like Judy Blume, who goes in there and shelves books and cleans the windows, and is really hyper-attentive to the small things in the bookstore. She doesn't necessarily do the human resources and things that I find very tricky. She's there to do it out of love. That's what I would like to do someday. 

PP: As you've said, opening a bookstore is really hard, and being an author was already hard enough — and then you add on top of that taking on banned books in Florida. What motivated you to do this?

LG: Fury. I'm a woman of fury, unfortunately. I'm so mad. I'm living in this state — and I think it could be a spectacular state: the people that I know who live here are good people. But our politicians are so egregious and they’re so nasty. The people doing the book banning, they’re just a few people, a handful of people imposing their will on the majority of people who do not support book bans. It's so outrageous.

And it's not just the books that are actually being pulled. It's the cold terror that it’s inspiring in librarians and in school teachers. It closes down the ability for these teachers to provide [diverse books to] students who might desperately need a book like that in their lives. They can't do it, they can't support people. They're not allowed to show people the love that they have for these books and for the people who need them. I find it just outrageous. I'm furious about living in a state that is so backwards even though it's full of good people. 

PP: Is there organizing in Florida that you especially admire, or that you've participated in, around banned books specifically?

PEN America has a whole office down in Miami, and the great Katie Blankenship is there. I am such a fan of Katie. She's so smart, and she's so passionate, and she's so good at saying: This is actually not a political stance. It's just a common sense thing. We're not being political. We're just saying this is absurd.

We are doing an event on our grand opening on April 28 with PEN America — they're coming up to have a banned books panel with us. And then in July, we're going to Orlando to do another banned book event with them as well [as part of the United Voices Summit]. 

PP: You were the first author ambassador for Independent Bookstore Day in 2016. Now you're getting ready to participate in Indie Bookstore Day for the first time as a store owner and bookseller. Has your sense of what this day means changed at all?

LG: To be honest, it's so much more urgent and meaningful now, as I'm in the shoes of a bookseller (even though I think we've sold maybe six books so far, mostly through Bookshop). As an author, you do it because you love bookstores. I mean, they're my havens. From the author's point of view, it's a day to appreciate these places of love and generosity and beauty. And coming at it now as a bookstore owner, I just want to shout to the skies the community space that we are and what we want to do for our city.

I don't think anybody would ever open a bookstore to self-aggrandizing because that would be so silly. You do it for the people you love. You do it for the people who need a bookstore desperately, who need events, and who need a place to gather and come into conversation with not only authors of the past, but readers of the present. And booksellers are the best people on the planet. I found that out at Winter Institute. They're really so great. I mean, I like writers, but we're so neurotic. Booksellers are so much more generous in some ways. 

PP: Oh, Lauren, congratulations on The Lynx. And thank you so much for talking to me. I'm sure I’m joined by so many of our followers in saying we're so excited for you to open and for you to join our community.

LG: I just have to say: there will be gremlins. But luckily we can chase them out over time. Oh my gosh, I'm so nervous. I don't know how people do this. They do it all the time. I don't know how they do this!