A Different Kind of Adult Bookstore

A quirky bookstore is bringing new life to Austin’s poetry scene.


Not long after Malvern Books opened a year ago, an elderly gentleman stuck his head in the door, looked around, and growled, “Did Dreamers move?”

For 25 years, the building had been occupied by adult video stores Pleasure Land and Dreamers. Joe Bratcher, MA ’87, PhD ’93, owner and visionary of the  new poetry bookstore, made sure to get that quote, along with “A different kind of adult bookstore,” printed on bookmarks and T-shirts.

Those seedy beginnings have been transformed into an elegant, eccentric, and friendly place. Handsome tables and cozy chairs invite lingering. Antique lights cast a warm glow over the space, and a bronze lion, affectionally and eponymously named Malvern, scowls near the door.

Then there are the books: carefully curated and lovingly displayed on neat shelves. It’s a collection the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else in town, or, really, in all of Texas. The store draws on small-press publications and sells only poetry and fiction, with a huge selection of literature in translation. Inspired by icons like Gotham Books in New York City and City Lights in San Francisco, Malvern aspires to be a hub of literary activity.

IMG_5372“Because of the small-press focus, the books are necessarily going to be edgy,” says Bratcher. “But I don’t want anyone to get the idea that this is a snobbish place. My vision was to create a homey, warm space that made people want to stay. I wanted a place where people could meet and talk about books.”

Malvern has also become an event space. With two steady reading series and a third on the way, the store brings in local and visiting writers almost every week. The space is home to book clubs and music performances, and Bratcher has plans for movie and game nights.

But as lively as the nights can be, Malvern is pretty quiet during the daytime. Bratcher relies on a handful of book-rabid regulars to keep the store running, and it’s well into a Wednesday afternoon when staff member Taylor Pate confesses, “We’ve had four customers today, and we’ve sold one book.”

A poet and recent grad from UT’s New Writers’ Project, Pate, MFA ’14, is one of the many Malvern employees connected with UT’s English department and Michener Center. The employees, most of whom are at work on books of their own, play a large role in shaping the store stock and are a colorful cast of characters. Reading series host Tyler Gobble, who’ll be entering his first year at the Michener Center in the fall, is a poet from Indiana so committed to cutting the sleeves off his T-shirts that Becky Garcia, the store manager, had to write a “no tank tops” stipulation into his contract.

While you won’t be catching Gobble’s bare arms anytime soon, he, Bratcher, and the rest of the gang are always a treasure trove of literary knowledge and eager to help you discover something new, strange, and wonderful—something, in fact, much like Malvern itself.

Photo by Anna Donlan


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