April 2016 | Rebecca Rego Barry

McSweeney's Archive for Sale

032701.jpgAmong the medieval manuscripts and fine bindings on offer at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair last weekend, a very modern collection attracted notice: an archive of early McSweeney's books, magazines, photographs, artifacts, props, and ephemera, focused primarily on the company's first retail storefront called "Store" in Brooklyn, c. 1999-2003. The San Francisco-based McSweeney's is the immensely successful literary outfit founded in 1998 by Dave Eggers which now includes several magazines, a book publishing arm, and national 826 tutoring centers.

"[Store] began as, and remained, as much an installation art project as a retail shop and had a built-in performance space for readings and musical concerts and other events: David Byrne played there; Zadie Smith read there ... It developed a house band--One Ring Zero--and a house artist, Marcel Dzama, and it became a hangout for writers and artists from the area," writes bookseller Ken Lopez in a brochure for the archive, which is priced at $30,000. "As they did with books and literary journals, Dave Eggers and the others involved with the store played with the concept of a retail establishment, so that context became content," Lopez commented earlier this week. "Aside from the publications, this was version 1.0 of McSweeney's in the public sphere."

The original Store closed in 2003--making way for the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. storefront, which also houses the 826NYC chapter. The archive that Lopez is selling was assembled by a McSweeney's insider and chronicles those early days with photographs, copies of the journals signed by contributors, signed proofs, dust jacket variants, and ephemera such as retail signs, stickers, and shopping bags. Among those featured within: Jonathan Lethem, Ricky Moody, George Saunders, David Foster Wallace, A.M. Homes, Nick Hornby, and many more.

Lopez views the archive as complementary to the "official" archive purchased by the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin back in 2013, as it zeroes in on an early part of McSweeney's history. He said, "It fills in and documents a seminal operation/activity of McSweeney's that is very much under-documented so far, and at some risk of being virtually "lost" to history--even in this Internet-saturated age: if you try to Google the first Brooklyn store you get very little information--an occasional article in the Times or someone's blog post, but mostly the links are to the later stores and activities. But the first Store was, in effect, the testing grounds for McSweeney's public face, and it contributed a number of the seminal ideas that have since flourished and defined McSweeney's to the world."

                                                                                                                                                             The question is, where will this unique trove of literary history be preserved: Brooklyn, San Francisco, Austin?     

                                                                                                                                                                 Image courtesy of Ken Lopez.