Literary Tourism: Nashville, Tennessee
Even though I grew up in Birmingham, just three hours south of Nashville, I never spent much time there growing up. Truth be told, until recently it was just a city a drove through on my way to somewhere else. But not anymore.
Chances are, if you’ve heard of Nashville two things come to mind: country music and bachelorette parties. It’s apparently bachelorette party central, which I’ll admit is the reason I was there. Seeing as this is a book blog, I’ll spare you the details of bar hopping on the Nashvegas strip and all the country music cover bands. A picture’s worth a thousand words anyway.
As it happens, it was after a long night of bar hopping that I happened upon my first Nashville literary adventure. We were staying in a hotel across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame and as we were winding our way back to our rooms from the last bar, I happened to look out the back door of the bar and saw a massive letterpress printer.
And I nerded out! Letterpress printers were invented by Gutenberg and it’s what he used to print the Gutenberg Bible. It was the beginning of moveable type and is the reason we have printed books––instead of hand copied books––today.
Not only that, I interned with a letterpress printer for a couple of months when I got out of college. Now that we have computers, no one really uses letterpress for making books, so it’s more of an art form. Greeting cards, posters, wedding invitations, and other specialty paper items can be created to stunning effect using letterpress. Though I ultimately chose not to go into artistic printmaking, I have great respect and admiration for the art form.
So imagine my delight when I saw this baby.
It was after 2am when I happened upon this print shop, so I decided to come back after the bachelorette festivities had officially concluded.
The place is called Hatch Show Print. Started by the Hatch Brothers in 1879, they began by printing religious materials and eventually created the iconic look of the posters for the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry. Everybody who’s anybody that’s played there has had their name on a show poster printed by Hatch. They’ve been going strong for 140 years!
Examples of their work include show posters like this.
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Long or short, this fellow has always had great hair, and we're glad to still be making posters for him. The photo (second slide) is a press picture that was used for his photoplate when Willie Nelson was working in Nashville, in the 1960s. Should you find yourself in Nashville now, you can hear and see more about his Outlaw days, in the exhibit now running up the hall, put on by our comrades @officialcmhof . Come by and say hello! #MCM #letterpress #photoplates #gigposter #outlawsandarmadillos #getinky
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Look what Cathy designed and printed for our fellow Nashvillians over @thirdmanrecords for their show tonight @bridgestonearenaofficial ! Get there early to get one, but more importantly, put away the phone and let the incredible experience of live music own you. When it's live, it can never be repeated the same way again. Savor it, enjoy it! #letterpress #gigposter #getinky #longliveanalog [📷: Third Man Records]
Seriously, how cool are they?! So I bought a ticket to the tour.
And a bunch of stuff in their shop. Including some posters of my own and a book on the shop’s history called Hatch Show Print: The Story of a Great American Poster Shop.
I got to go in the room with all the printers, but I heard them ask that visitors not take photos inside. So unfortunately I didn’t get any more photos of the print machines themselves. Boo hiss. I still had a great time and highly recommend visiting if you’re ever in Nashville.
Next, I went to an indie bookstore I’ve been excited about for years. Author Ann Patchett opened Parnassus Books in Nashville in 2011. I love bookstores that are owned (or co-owned in her case) by people who write and/or publish books since they tend to know very well how to woo fellow authors to town for events.
Parnassus isn’t like a lot of indie bookstores I’ve been to where it’s in an old charming building in a cute part of town. Parnassus is in a nondescript strip mall. A beige strip mall. Next to a Sherwin Williams. In the suburbs. I even got hustled in the parking lot to contribute money to a youth basketball team. I had my doubts.
But once inside, the place is impeccably chic. See for yourself!
Strip mall or not, I love any and every bookstore with a bookshelf sliding ladder. What I wouldn’t give to be able to fit one in my house.
And how cute is the kids’ section?! The mini Greek column doorway drew me in, so I can only imagine how much kids love it.
There was also cool ceiling art.
They didn’t have the first book I wanted, but this cute little old man with a British accent was dedicated to helping me find something I’d like. I went with Atticus Finch: The Biography: Harper Lee, Her Father, and the Making of an American Icon by Joseph Crespino.
When I went to check out, the a kind bookseller/cashier lady told me more about the author. She’s fond of his work and one of their other booksellers was one of Joseph’s students at Emory University. She encouraged me to check out his TED Talk and was super helpful.
I should pause here to say that although I knew Parnassus Books was owned by Ann Patchett, it never occurred to me that I’d actually see her there. I’ve read two of her books, but her author photo apparently didn’t stick in my mind. And I’ve heard other book nerds say they’d gone to Parnassus hoping to meet her and didn’t since she’s usually writing and not always in the store.
It wasn’t until I got to my friend’s house several hours away and told her about how lovely Parnassus was that she asked if I’d seen Ann. I replied, “I don’t know what she looks like, so I wouldn’t know her if I saw her.” That was true because I’d seen her and truly didn’t know it was her!
My friend laughed and we joked about how I’m the worst book nerd ever. Though I own nearly all of her books, I would’ve bought one and asked her to sign it if I’d known it was her! I just have to laugh.
Now I want to hear from you! Do you have thoughts on Nashville or do you want to go visit now? Are there other literary things I missed? Tell me in the comments.