Walk through Hoboken on a weekend night and feel its pulse on Washington Street, where restaurants and sports bars are teeming with patrons. If you’re a book lover, you can make your way toward Fifth Street to Symposia Community Bookstore, which for some literary types is the heart of this small city.
For locals who love to buy used books or donate them to the non-profit, Symposia is no secret. Certainly not to the toddler bunch whose strollers are double parked outside on weekday mornings while they are entertained by Puppetonia, a troupe of actors and educators who, along with their cloth and big-eyed colleagues, teach and entertain the adoring crowd.
But you know that. You live in Hoboken. It’s those of us who on a Sunday evening are boarding the PATH train at various stops in Manhattan, some of us for the first time, who are enthralled with the discovery. Carmen Rusu, cofounder of Puppetonia and Symposia Community Bookshop, has reached out beyond the river to invite writers from the New School to host their own events.
Dubbed Poets’ Night Out, a recent evening included readings by Mark Benjamin, Daniell Jones, and other members of the MFA program, ranging from reflections on loss, language, angst and art. The last mirthful poem of the night by Parrish Turner sent us off with an account of getting home from a raucous party somewhere in the wild outback of Alabama.
With their charismatic host Louis Augustine Herrera, the New School writers will return on Sunday, April 3, from 6 to 8 p.m., inviting the audience to share their own creative work or that of a favorite author on the theme: love and other strangers.
Among the returning readers will be poet Mel Glenn – award winning author of YA fiction and poetry including Best Books for Young Adults (ALA), New York Times contributor, and most recently a collection of love poems to diners. He also seems on that blustery mid-December night to have fallen for Symposia, an encounter he describes in typically poetic terms. “Outside, Washington Street was full of hipsters intent on their hipster-type revelries, hop-scotching from one bar to another,” he says. “Inside more gentle souls recreated a gentler milieu, a place where poets and literati could gather and listen to the spoken word. Symposia is a haven, a delight to the ear and the mind.”
Love at first sight
Ditto Dr. Cynthia Stuart, for whom her first visit to Symposia was indeed love at first sight. Cofounder of Book Bogglers, a Jersey-based collective of writers, editors, and illustrators, she recently coauthored her first work of fiction, “My Improbable Mischief,” recounting the adventures of Archer and Fletch, two rat heroes based on her own beloved pets. Coming via the Long Island Rail Road and PATH to Hoboken to launch the book, she arrived early to set up and take a look around.
“Even at a distance, as I approached and saw the outdoor display of books on shelves and tables in front of the store, I knew I had discovered a personal spiritual retreat,” she said. “Unlike megastores such as Barnes and Noble, Symposia is manageable and warm, with comfy seating for book lovers to evaluate purchases and chat with fellow patrons…Such an intimate experience with the written word is practically unheard of anymore.”
In an era when even the mega-bookstores have capitulated to mega-online bookstores, forcing independent bookseller to become a quaint memory, Carmen Rusu has defied the odds, keeping Symposia’s doors open and shelves packed. In her usual self-effacing manner, Carmen gives credit to everyone else: the shop’s cofounder her husband Corneliu Rusu, to its Board of Directors, and all the contributing instructors and volunteers who keep the storefront warm with their camaraderie and enthusiasm.
But Carmen also credits an angel. Angels don’t often come in the form of landlords, but in a day and age when escalating rents have driven small shops out of business, former Hoboken Mayor David Roberts, who owns the building, has proven to be an ally, helping Symposia remain a vibrant community center.
And so perhaps the theme of the upcoming Poets’ Night Out – love and other strangers – is an apt choice for Symposia Community Book Shop, which seems to thrive on bringing both together.