Emma Straub MFA’08

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Emma Straub stands in front of storefront sign that reads "Books Are Magic."

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times/Redux

A Store Grows In Brooklyn

The planning took months. For a brief moment, when emotions ran high, they almost called it off. But when the big day arrived, it was glorious. Some might even say magical.

“The opening itself felt very much like a wedding,” says best-selling novelist Emma Straub MFA’08, owner of Books Are Magic, a New York City bookstore. “All of a sudden, the doors were open, and people could come in, and we just hugged everyone.”

Straub and her husband, artist Michael Fusco-Straub, opened Books Are Magic this summer, near their home in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood. The store is designed to welcome everyone from families to the literary community — and the stock is pointedly curated.

“My goal when we opened was to be a feminist, female-author- centric bookstore,” Straub says. “I want to be a loudspeaker for women writers and other marginalized writers, writers who are often not taken seriously or not given space on a bookstore shelf.”

The store carries Straub’s own New York Times best sellers — 2016’s Modern Lovers and 2014’s The Vacationers — as well as her 2012 Wisconsin-influenced debut novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures. Alumni will recognize a Madison flavor in her 2011 collection, Other People We Married; she wrote many of the short stories while in the UW’s creative writing program.

At UW–Madison, Straub was delighted to study with author Lorrie Moore, whom she describes as “one of my favorites of all time.” As a graduate, she’s the latest in a line of distinguished alumni that includes her parents, Susan Bitker Straub ’66, a literary advocate, and Peter Straub ’65, a best-selling horror novelist.

The bookstore is younger than Straub’s two preschool-aged sons, but no less demanding of attention. Her husband serves as the store’s first responder (think leaky roofs or shoplifters); Straub hosts dozens of fellow authors for events, and she’s hiring booksellers so she can devote time to writing her next novel.

Straub says they had just started planning for Books Are Magic during the November 2016 election season. Amid the national mood of political strife, the couple wondered if their timing was right.

“When the election happened, we thought, ‘Oh, God, no, the world is falling apart. We can’t open a bookstore; it’s too risky,’ ” she recalls. “That was for, like, three hours, and then we realized, ‘No, this is exactly why we need a bookstore.’ It’s even more important now.”

Published in the Spring 2018 issue

Tags: Alumni, Arts, books, Business

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