Bright Young Booksellers: Jennifer Fisher

Credit: R.G. 2022 LES

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Jennifer Fisher, poet and proprietor of Vortexity, a street shop in the East Village on Avenue A near to St. Mark's in New York City.

How did you get started in rare books?

I don’t consider myself a rare book seller — by any means — I’m more of A Circuit for Connections.

I love books, I believe in them, I think they have the capacity to change a person’s trajectory in life. They teach you, they guide you, they protect you, they are quite magical in fact — if you are lucky enough, you can learn to read a book without opening it, by merely listening to it.

Also, if you are willing to do the work you can become a person who moves them physically through the world — a Vortexity — building fascinating exchanges with other people. I don’t know how this Vortexity project has worked this long. I think its because I trusted myself and the people who stopped by — we created this project together — the East Village and I. The table is a passion, but it is also how I survive, (pay rent and eat) in the city. Apparently, NYC and I are in a relationship — she feeds me — I feed her.

One of my theories to why it’s lasted 8 years is because of three guidelines I created to help ground down the street corner:

  1. honesty — if I don’t know something I don’t pretend to know it, it’s exciting not to know. I don’t care what people think of me, as in if I know enough or not, I think passion is formed through honesty and honesty is risky and brave. l want to be turned on by someone who is passionate about what they know or want to create, not by someone trying to impress with some vast (usually boring) academic knowledge on a subject or pretending they know more than they do.
  2. listen to the energy of the village — if I arrive to the street to setup with the books and the energy feels off — then I leave. And vice versa — if the energy is on then I fall into it unabashed. You cannot change the street energy, but it can change you.
  3. everyone is always welcomed, and you never have to buy anything.

When did you create Vortexity and what do you specialize in?

8 years ago. VorteXity was an idea created after visiting a work of art by Ray Johnson.

The (specialty?) idea is — it’s always fluid — it’s a live organism that has no rules — it changes with what I can find in the wild that turns me and other people on — it’s a small space, we have to keep it interesting — if I see a book and it has that thing, I buy it for the table. There is a good chance if I am interested in it someone else is too. The book table is created by the books that inhabit it — the energy of the books embody our energy, our internal fires, so it’s exciting to have books that elevate us — that keep our imaginations hungry, that generate new ideas, because if the books are boring then, a boring table, a boring street corner, boring ideas, a boring existence — next.

What do you love about the book trade? What do you love about street selling?

I love the unpredictability of street selling, the chaos, the intimacy, the passion, the connections to others, you mingle with all types of people out there. A lot of times the most interesting people in NYC are those who really cruise the streets, who thrive in the wake of them.

Street selling also teaches you how to listen to the vibrations of the city — it’s like learning to compose a musical score or a poem, it’s alive, it feeds you, it’s feral, it’s out of your control but you can reign it in and create something completely new in the world for people to experience and be apart of.

Describe a typical day for you:

There aren’t any. They have to unfold. I keep calendars and lists but I can only do what the day allows.

Yuri, my cat, has taught me how to be more grounded at home with routine — he likes to eat at sunrise — but once you leave the apartment you are beholden to the streets, and that, to me, is the only way to be.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you’ve handled?

The ones that light me up when they handle me.

What do you personally collect?

I have a good size library. I also collect John Weiner’s books. The play Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neil (I have over 355 copies of the Yale published edition with Eugene O’Neil on the cover at the Tao house), objects from DHB and found objects on the street (I put together collages to build portraits of things).

What do you like to do outside of Vortexity?

When I’m not on the street I read, go to the library, write, take notes, experience art, films, friends, cat, collections, travel, walk, etc.

Thoughts on the future of street selling?

It should last forever.