Amplifying Local Voices with Local Partners

For Danny Caine, owner of the Raven Book Store in downtown Lawrence, Kansas, building community is just another part of the job.

“What are we without a community?” Caine asks with a sense of sarcasm. “Of course we’re working to build a community around books.”

In the three years since Caine bought the renowned Lawrence bookstore in 2017, the Raven Book Store and the University Press of Kansas (UPK) have partnered on dozens of author events. Caine is a passionate supporter of independent businesses and works tirelessly to promote companies he feels are fighting the good fight.

“There are many reasons it’s beneficial for indie bookstores to work directly with publishers,” Caine explains. “First, especially with specialty or university presses, it just makes economic sense. Additionally, close partnerships between publishers and bookstores can lead to mutually beneficial publicity, event programming, and other synchronicities. Everybody at bookstores and publishers wants to get the right books into the right people’s hands, so it makes perfect sense to team up.”

Since March, when COVID-19 shut down in-person events, Caine started scrambling to find ways to engage with his clients and promote books. The result was four virtual prescient political book discussions featuring UPK authors.

The series featured UPK authors Nathaniel Green (The Man of the People: Political Dissent and the Making of the American Presidency), Christopher J. Devine and Kyle C. Kopko (Do Running Mates Matter? The Influence of Vice Presidential Candidates in Presidential Elections), Stephen F. Knott (The Lost Soul of the American Presidency: The Decline into Demagoguery and the Prospects for Renewal), and Jon K. Lauck (The Conservative Heartland: A Political History of the Postwar American Midwest).

“It was a new experience, and it was a great one,” Caine says. “As far as I know, it’s the only university press/independent bookstore event partnership. It was a great way to get some serious political discussions going, and I loved how it expanded our slate of programming and our audience. In an age of tweet-sized discourse, I enjoyed helping to provide in-depth political discussions grounded in historical context.”

The speaker series was the latest in a developing line of partnerships between UPK and the independent bookstore.

“It’s just so good to have friends down the road putting out such great books,” Caine says. “Our Kansas section has a solid backlist backbone thanks to the great books of UPK, and at least once a year one of the books really takes off. A book like Petroglyphs of the Kansas Smoky Hills isn’t going to get mainstream award or review attention, but at this bookstore, it was easily one of 2019’s bestsellers. Books like this from university presses help make our curated selection more unique, and certainly more interesting than the one-size-fits-all approach of our larger competition.”