Written by Whitney Gilchrist

Lemuria Bookstore is located just inside the cusp of Fondren, but it predates the ethos we now associate with the neighborhood. To celebrate its fortieth birthday this year, Lemuria printed bandanas and created an electronic timeline of its history  on its website. There, you can read the brief but fascinating myth of Lemuria, the lost sister city to Atlantis, and watch authors swim by as fish while you scroll.

Lemuria’s booksellers talk about the origins of the store in terms of John Evans – the founder, owner, and book buyer. John opened Lemuria in The Quarter on Lakeland Drive in 1975 when he was 24 years-old and needed a place to buy books.

“The funny thing is I know some of the books we have on the shelves in the metaphysical section are from the original store,” says Kelly Pickerill, laughing. Kelly is the personnel manager, keeping her finger on the pulse of all the books and all the people in the store from “I find it interesting that John was so young when he opened it… I picture it being only the books that he’d collected already on the bookcases,” she continues.

Austen Jennings, the freight manager, coincidentally rents an apartment in Lemuria’s original space in The Quarter. I asked him how Lemuria began.

“What I think about is how it started in an apartment – that I now live in – and it ended up here, in a place where I kind of live, as well.” He laughs. “It’s my home.”

I catch Joe Hickman, the general manager who has worked at the store for nearly 14 years, as he leaves to go to lunch. I ask him why, as I had read on the Twitter page, Lemuria forgot its fortieth anniversary. His eyes search the ceiling for a second.

“We were busy selling Grisham,” he shrugs. “That’s the official answer.”

John Grisham, that is. The author of wildly popular crime novels visited Jackson for the Mississippi Book Festival  in late August. Then, the week of Lemuria’s birthday, he came out with another book, Rogue Lawyer . At the store, they were busy talking on the phone with Grisham-thirsty customers and readying their books for the release day. This is their bread and butter. Perhaps they were too full to think about cake and ice cream.

One of Lemuria’s trademarks is the unique, ever-changing bookmarks they put inside each book. In the past, they were printed with portraits of Eudora Welty  and Margaret Walker, for example. They represent the relationships among the booksellers, readers, authors, and publishers. Aside from John’s 40 years, Joe has been there for almost 14, and Clara Martin (manager in the children’s book section known as “Oz”)  has returned to work at Lemuria eleven years after first starting a job in high school — to give a few examples. That continuity has created a style.

Clara credits Lemuria’s success to its contradictory blend of local flavor and national acclaim.

“Lemuria is known by authors all over the country,” Clara muses. “I don’t think it would work anywhere but Jackson because of Eudora Welty, because of Willie Morris. Now we have Katy Simpson Smith  and Taylor Kitchings … I think this is very unique to Jackson, but it wouldn’t work if it was just local.”

The day I visited Lemuria, John was imbued in the local literary scene at the Eudora Welty House, where Barry Moser was reading. Three years ago, Moser  wrote an essay for the collection, My Bookstore, in which he commemorated Lemuria as an avenue for personal, as well as literary, triumphs. Today, as always, business and relationships go hand-in-hand in the world of books. And, for many more years, Lemuria is destined to inspire more readers and writers, giving voice to the community.

Lemuria posts about events, releases, and recommendations on Twitter (@LemuriaBooks) and on Facebook. Their booksellers blog is at lemuriablog.com and the online shop is at lemuriabooks.com.