DublinTown meets Maurice Earls of Books Upstairs
Books Upstairs is Dublin’s oldest independent bookshop.
For almost forty years, Books Upstairs has been an institution in Dublin literary circles. Having initially enjoyed a nomadic existence, moving around four locations since opening its doors in 1978, the bookshop appears to have found a permanent home on D’Olier Street. DublinTown met with co-founder Maurice Earls to discuss Books Upstairs’ upcoming fortieth anniversary, the current state of Irish literature and what makes a good bookshop.
Could you tell us a little bit about Books Upstairs and how it got started?
Books Upstairs commenced in 1978. It started off in South King Street, opposite the Gaiety Theatre. Our next stop was the Market Arcade on Georges Street. Then we moved to College Green, where we roosted for 27 years. Almost three years ago, we moved to D’Olier Street, which we feel confident is our final destination.
The bookshop has probably had the same objectives since it started. To sell and make available quality literature in Dublin. We’ve been trying to do that since we started and we are trying to do that in D’Olier Street. Our focus is primarily the humanities, creative literature like poetry and fiction, Irish history and studies. These are all areas that we are experts in and which we concentrate on. Books reflecting new approaches to life, both internationally and in Ireland.
What do you feel makes a good bookshop?
A good independent book shop should be rooted in the culture of the city and country in which it is based, and from that position, look out into the wider world of international literature.
You’re coming up to forty years in business this May. Do you have anything planned for it?
Yes, we’re coming up to forty years this year. It’s gone by pretty quickly! We run a series of readings on Sunday and they will be celebratory this year. We’ve also run a few competitions such as our flash fiction for Valentine’s Day and we’ll be running a poetry competition in April for International Poetry Day. Things like that will roll out through the year.
We’re also a literary venue. We look on this as more than a place where you can have more than a transactional relationship. We like to think of it as a place where people who are interested in what we are doing here can relax, have a bit of lunch, have a coffee or perhaps attend a literary event.
What are the challenges of running an independent bookshop?
The challenge over the years has been finding affordable property to rent. Books take up a lot of space! It’s a challenge we have met, however, and we have managed to thrive in a modest way over the decades.
What do you think of the current state of Irish literature?
Irish literature is looking remarkably healthy at the moment. World class writers don’t appear out of nowhere, they appear out of a literary culture. We have a renaissance here in literary journals. We have a lot of people writing and it’s really encouraging to see so many young people writing. In a time where it is so expensive to live, it is great to see young people taking time out to write. It’s about as healthy as I can remember it.
Visit Books Upstairs at 17 D’Olier St, Dublin 2.
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