12 July 13 | Chad W. Post

From today’s PW Daily:

Karl Pohrt, founder of Shaman Drum Bookshop in Ann Arbor, Mich., died on Wednesday. He was 65. Pohrt was diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer in October 2012 and wrote about his illness on his blog, thereisnogap.com.

In 2009, plunging textbook sales and the economy forced Pohrt to close 29-year-old Shaman Drum, which had been located on the edge of the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. He also ran the nonprofit Great Lakes Literary Arts Center, which he founded in 2008.

“Karl Pohrt was a true bookman: a bookseller, compulsive reader, and a publisher as well. He had a very strong sense of the material and spiritual value of the reading experience. He was a man with a mission and an unshakeable devotion to the idea that books could transform human beings and the world for the better,” said Bruce Joshua Miller of Miller Trade Marketing in Chicago. “He was the godfather of bookselling in Ann Arbor and Michigan. He’s already missed,” commented Deb Leonard, executive director of the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association.

A memorial service will be held for Pohrt on Sunday, July 14, at 2 p.m. at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, 3257 Lohr Road, Ann Arbor. The family requests that donations be made to the church or to the Children’s Literacy Network.

I don’t think I’m in a mental place where I can properly express myself about Karl’s passing or how much he meant to me. Karl was my partner-in-crime back some years ago when we started the Reading the World program—a special marketing initiative to get independent bookstores to display works in translation throughout the month of May. (Which happens to be World in Translation Month.) We spent a number of days together convincing publishers to go in on our idea, getting booksellers excited, and planning some awesome BEA parties at various consulates. (Including a really swank one at the French Consulate in D.C. And a cool one in the RedCat Theater in L.A.)

I’ll never forget all of the visits to Shaman Drum in Ann Arbor, which was one of the greatest independent bookstores ever. And Karl was one of the greatest managers ever. He assembled an amazing crew of employees, and did more for literature in Ann Arbor than the massive (also now defunct) competitor down the road . . .

And Karl was one of the most well-adjusted people I’ve ever met. A long time buddhist and friend of Gary Snyder, he exuded a certain calm and ease with the world that touched everyone who ever met him.

I hadn’t seen Karl in years. In fact, I think the last time was in 2008(?) when I surprised him by showing up at the special ceremony the University of Michigan held to announced the chair that they had named after him. It was so amazing to see him in, to go out to dinner with him and Gary Snyder and hear about his SDS days . . . And to see all of the wonderful people who came out to celebrate one of the best book people in the world. The days of panels and discussions were interesting, and it was touching to see all the effusive outpourings of praise for Karl—even if he was too modest to fully appreciate this. Still.

Damn. I knew for a while about his cancer, since he wrote about it at There Is No Gap in a way that’s human and impressive in its honesty, but I secretly hoped everything would turn out OK. Or that I’d have one last chance to talk with him in Ann Arbor and to see him smile. He was always smiling. But that’s what we always regret when someone important to us dies . . .

I wish the best to his family, and for everyone who knew him, I know we’re all thinking similar things and suffering the fact that the world is a slightly worse place now that Karl isn’t in it.


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