The home of Malaprop's owner, Emöke B'Racz

In my continuing series of famous Southern bookseller's homes, I choose Emöke B'Racz.  Emöke is the founder of one of the country's most beloved bookstores, Malaprop's, located in fabled Asheville, N C.

Well known North Carolina writer Janet Hurley did a wonderful piece all about Emöke in the April 2011 edition of
 Our State Magazine. Here are some highlights:

That’s the kind of society it was,” Emöke says of Hungary in 1950. “Poets and writers disappeared.” Among them was her father, who, despite his precautions to burn his work, was dragged away that “midnight in wintertime.”
Now 62, Emöke sits in the cafe of Malaprop’s Bookstore, which she opened in downtown Asheville in 1982. She speaks in a low, slightly accented voice, recounting family evenings filled with poetry recitations and folk music. “Words were tended to me with love,” Emoke says. “Bookselling is about the importance of the word.”
 It’s easy to understand, while browsing Malaprop’s eclectic mix of titles — from the best sellers to the overlooked to the once-banned — that Emöke has spent the past 29 years reclaiming those books stolen from her family so long ago.
In the process, she created a literary hub for western North Carolina — a bookstore, she says, that’s about creativity and community.

Emöke fell in love with Asheville and the mountains as soon as she moved here from New Haven, Connecticut, in 1980. She opened Malaprop’s — derived from “malapropism,” meaning ludicrous misuse of a word — without business loans. She depended, instead, on common sense and honesty.

 In 2000, Malaprop’s received the Seal of the City Recognition for Outstanding Contributions to the City of Asheville, the same year Publishers Weekly named her Bookseller of the Year.
Employee Gina Cole remembers feeling that vibe as a child when she visited the store with her family to browse the extensive young-reader selection. Two decades later, in 2009, Cole held her wedding at Malaprop’s. “We both loved the idea of being surrounded by books, with thousands of years of ideas and stories and love and adventures,” Cole says.
Linda Marie Barrett , Malaprop’s general manager, remembers a customer named George, who came in the store every day. “When he died, his family wanted to do the memorial here, and we closed early to do it".

From Hungarian Childhood by Emöke B’Racz
  The knocking came at midnight in wintertime.
The room was warm and at peace with the night.
Two men brought in the cold under their hats,
grabbed most of the books and threw them into potato sacks

My father was still and silent
Like a falling leaf in the eye of the storm.
The silence was broken by my mother sobbing
As they dragged him through the door.

Here is Emöke Zsuzsánna B'Racz (on the right) with her partner, Gail Addis.

Emöke's home is filled with books and art. Much of the art is her own or her family's, and the bookshelves hold a lifetime of memorabilia. This one, a "diorama of small things" as she describes it, is just one example. As I wandered from room to room, I was overwhelmed by the thousands of stories that called out to me from every table, wall and shelf.

The tile on the right is one of twenty art tiles 
created for Malaprop's by artist Lisa Morphew.

As for the photo of
Emöke in the red hat (below), she explains " was taken the day after my mother died. The hat is the paper that someone's flowers arrived in at my house. I was somewhat beside myself and it was not a funny moment, more like I wanted to get into some other place."

This is the "Retreat Room" for writers; the 
painting table is used by everyone.

"Owl Metallic" by Emöke. Note her signature, the Buddha on a skateboard; sometimes her Buddhas have a halo, sometimes not.

Photos of Emöke's grandfathers from WWI.

"My paternal grandfather was the village of Turkeve's blacksmith. He is on the left. He became a machinist in a button factory after the war. 
My maternal grandfather was an accountant in a Budapest Bank. He was a small landowner in the town of Seregélyes before the lands were taken away from landowners.
Both my grandparents were in WWI, but both of them made sure they did not have to fight. My father went underground instead of being collected by the SS or the communists in WWII.

In this painting by Emöke, she explains, "This is a painting in honor of my father's passing. It comes like you Jon, taking photographs of things and you know which you must keep. A painting is the same, except it chooses the painter."
entitled "Ascending for Father". There is a corresponding one she painted for her mother.

A view of one of the many "libraries" in the house.

Just a few of her first editions collection -- this shelf features the exceptional author Jeffery Lent.

On this shelf is "Red Reader" by Polish poet Wisława Szymborska.
"The figure was a present from a friend and it was found in an antiques spot in Asheville. Red is my favorite, and so is reading, so the combination was perfect."

Steps to the front entrance.

Art by Emöke's family decorate many walls. Here we have works by sister Piri , brother Istvan, nephew Gareth, and brother-in-law Andrew. The large red painting is by Jane Liebowitz.

Hat parties are not at all uncommon.

Emöke's favorite poet, Elizabeth Bishop, a "Monkey by Banana Leaf" bookend, and a Herendi porcelain vase.

Emöke's brother is the composer and musician Istvan Peter Bracz. This CD was just an extension of his desire to record some of her poems. The cover painting was done by her sister Piri. Whenever the family gets together, they like to sit around the big table (seen in previous photo above) and draw or paint and "allow the conversation to take the course it needs to take," as she puts it. The whole family loves doing this and it happens every time they are together.

This photo of Emöke graces the enclosed CD.

"Dane Gyula was one of my father's friends and became my Godfather. He was a photographer by profession. He also taught me to play table tennis and later I learned he was an Olympic player.
On one of his visits to Törôkbálint, which is where I grew up, I remember him making my sister and I pose on top of the hill behind our house. I must be about 7 years old."

Unexplained witches and a picture of Gail and Emoke.

Glass Snakes in the Garden series by Emöke, painted over Fibonacci numbers.

"I just started throwing nail-polish over acrylic painted canvas and started to see the snake shapes evolving. At the time I was reading about mathematics and therefore Fibonacci numbers were on my fore-brain. His sequence of numbers added reaches into and continues into infinity. 
Like 1 plus 2 is 3"""3 plus 2 is 5""""5 plus 3 is 8 """"8 plus 5 is 13 and so on into infinity. I am still fascinated with mathematics and was into studying mathematics in my school years."

There is always a game in progress.

The "EMOKE" chocolate bar was a candy bar in Hungary in the the 1980's. Our Emöke bought some on one of her return trips to Budapest and many years later found this wrapper in her art supplies.  She explains "I was drawing a home for it or maybe even drawing a home for myself, who knows. This immigrant soul is a bit insecure about that I guess, and I have always been fascinated by the letters of the orient so therefore the disguise within the so-called  letters."

One of many nonfiction bookshelves, arranged by author
 (of course, she's a bookseller)!

A hand-cranked radio ("a must for all households") and a picture from 1983, taken at the old Malaprop's.

The view from the front porch.

"Oh, I love the birds," said Emöke, as I took the last photo.

Thank you Gail and Emöke for your kindness and gracious hospitality. It was truly an afternoon filled with wonder and amazement.

I would also like to thank the wonderful and talented author Patti Callahan Henry for her help in convincing the elusive Ms. B'Racz to open her world to the bookselling and publishing community.



Unknown said…
I just found your blog via twitter and this piece is simply beautiful. I then spent over an hour browsing older have I not found you before!!
Will you be attending Decatur Book Festival this year? I'll be there.
Come visit me on my blog, or shoot me an email...nice to meet you:).
anitaglebeau at gmail dot com. @anitalovesbooks twitter.
Jon Mayes said…
Thank you for your kind words Anita, I will indeed be at the Festival, I hope to see you there.
Unknown said…
Emoke, I just found your blog and it was wonderful to visit with you across the miles and the years.
Unknown said…
Wonderful to find your site and visit with you across the miles and the years.

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