Prairie Lights Bookstore

Prairie Lights Books, image used with permission from Prairie Lights Bookshop

Iowa, many think of it as a home to corn fields and flooding rivers, a narrow summation at best. Iowa City, in particular, is a Midwestern jewel, serving as ground zero for American literature and Prairie Lights Books & Cafe provides its books.

Prairie Lights was founded in 1978, by Jim Harris and is co-owned today by Poets, Jan Weissmiller and Jane Mead. Within a few short years of opening, Harris moved the shop to its current location with three and a half stories and is home to every book imaginable. The current location has one claim to fame that will turn the heads of many a book lover as it was once home to a literary society populated by Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Sherwood Anderson, Langston Hughes, and e. e. cummings.

Prairie Lights Books, image used with permission from Prairie Lights Bookshop

Community support, as with any indie bookstore, is paramount for success at Prairie Lights. Happily, Iowa City is a Unesco City of Literature, boasting a vibrant scene that includes the famous Iowa City Book Festival. The city also home to the oldest and arguably most prestigious writing program the, Iowa Writer's Workshop. Students naturally gravitate to the store and are often required to attend readings for their studies.

Prairie Lights has attracted talented writers, and not just as visitors. Writers, Curtis Sittenfeld, Ethan Canin, and Elizabeth Weiss each did a turn as booksellers. Yiyun Li wrote a good share of A Thousand Years of Good Prayer in their cafe, and Jorie Graham even once borrowed lipstick from a Prairie Lights employee and planted a smooch on every copy of Swarm in-stock.

A reading at Prairie Lights Books, image used with permission from Prairie Lights Bookshop

It isn't just the literary personalities that make Prairie Lights a great place to shop, it is the people in-house that make it. Buyer, Paul Ingram is a particular favorite. One only has to watch his videos on the Prairie Lights website to see why. His excitement about reading is infectious. I have taken several of his book recommendations and haven't been disappointed yet. Ingram also has his own book club through Prairie Lights and writes a blog on the Prairie Lights website that is definitely worth a read.

I wish my local bookstore had someone like Ingram.

We need more bookshops like Prairie Lights, places that are deeply involved in the lit scene. The reader experience is richer when the people bringing you your books live the book-life. If you find yourself in Iowa City, be sure to visit Prairie Lights. If you're like me and live across the country, check out their website and do your online shopping from an indie bookstore that loves books as much as you do.


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