A Literary Guide to Nashville
While conventional wisdom contends that there’s no place for the independent bookstore in Amazon’s America, Nashville has pushed back against this modern assumption with a thriving literary scene.
In classic Nashville fashion, the scene is rooted in community and collaboration among writers, publishers, and readers. In many respects the literary universe of Nashville mirrors the best of its songwriting legacy—artists interested in authentic storytelling. Just like it is with songwriters, a few famous writers live low-key existences in Nashville, including international best-selling author Ann Patchett and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham.
Here are some of the Nashville neighborhood spots key to the city's vibrant literary scene.
Downtown Public Library
One of Nashville’s most under-appreciated treasures is the Downtown branch of its Public Library located in the heart of Music City.
With all the commotion and honky-tonks on Broadway, the beautiful, refurbished library is often overlooked, but book lovers around town know it’s one of the best places to explore, commune, and maybe even get some work done. Construction was completed on the library in 2001, and the sprawling complex offers educational services, public events, art installations, and, of course, a vast collection of printed materials.
The undisputed hub of Nashville’s new literary scene is Parnassus Books, an independent bookstore owned by Ann Patchett (her novel “Bel Canto” was just made into a movie of the same name).
After a rich career penning a series of successful novels, Patchett opened her charming shop on on Hillsboro Road, in the heart of the lush, affluent Green Hills neighborhood in 2011. Parnassus is a haven for writers of every stripe and hosts multiple events every week. It even inspired local musician Emily Arrow to open her own independent shop in East Nashville after her long-standing relationship with Parnassus as a children’s story-book singer.
A great driver of Nashville’s literary scene these days takes the shape of a writing collective called The Porch. Their mission is as straightforward as their name suggests—The Porch offers “Nashvillians and Middle Tennesseans exciting, accessible opportunities to create as well as consume—to tell their stories, craft their own narratives, learn with and from mentors, and collaborate with other artists.”
This means writing workshops, free resources for young people, public readings, and gatherings where writers can foster community and learn from one another in a safe, welcoming environment. While The Porch doesn’t yet have an official brick-and-mortar home, their events are hosted all over town from Music Row to Wedgewood Houston and everywhere in between.
Along West Eastland Avenue in East Nashville lives an even more charming independent bookseller, The Bookshop, which bills itself as “a nook for people who love beautiful books.”
Owner Joelle Herr is a publishing veteran of over 20 years with experience as an editor and author, but perhaps most importantly, as a voracious lover of the written word. The Bookshop is an aesthetically beautiful shop that, in spite of its small size, can keep readers browsing at length. The store even hosts a book club called Better Off Read in collaboration with none other than The Porch.
Salon@615 is a beloved partnership among Nashville’s most consequential literary entities—Parnassus Books, The Nashville Public Library, Book Page Magazine, and Humanities Tennessee. Founded in 2011, the main function of the Salon is to foster Nashville’s literary scene by bringing authors from around the world to give lectures on their works and host book signings all over Nashville.
Past authors include Margaret Atwood, Cheryl Strayed, Jonathan Safran Foer, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Jacqueline Woodson. This year’s lineup is sure to live up to a well-earned reputation with appearances by Sally Field, Barbara Kingsolver, and Pete Souza. The events crisscross town with lectures in Hillsboro Village, Downtown, Green Hills, and West End.