Nola Death Tete-a-tete: The Vanishing LGBT Bookkeeper

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Fri, October 16th, 2015

Otis Fennell runs Faubourg Marigny Art & Books on Frenchman Street, one of the oldest LGBT bookstores left in the country. "People these days just aren’t clamoring to run a bookstore," says Fennell.

Otis Fennell, Owner of Faubourg Marigny Art & Books, Frenchman Street.

“This store was founded in the ‘70s because there were very few sources for gay and lesbian literature in the South, very few in the whole United States. When I walked in here 15 years ago it was a wreck. I took over in 2003. A lot of the books in here are things people don’t see every day, and that’s fine. But it has become more of a curiosity. I should make it into a museum and start charging admission. A lot of people today don’t know what a bookstore is. They grew up without ever going to a bookstore. I’ve had people come in and think it’s a library, that’s how they relate to books stacked on shelves. In terms of their relevance, book stores are dying. The past is brighter than the future. Life today is too fast-paced for that sort of thing. But I’ve found that once people discover this spot they really like to hang out here.

I don’t do the internet thing. To me, hand-selling a book serves a very real function. The death of that industry, which is something I’m facing, is pretty difficult to handle. I worry about the people who are living on this earth and don’t have the experience of reading a book. Working through the process of understanding someone else’s creative talent visually through words is a very attractive thing for me. The fact that people aren’t doing that means they are getting their kicks from somewhere else. That’s not a negative thing. But the person who has spent their full life glued to a screen and keyboard is going to have a different experience than the person who reads a book and processes a book.

We are people with emotional needs, and reading is really to satisfy an emotion. Reading broadens our perspective on the world, because we can read about anywhere as opposed to just living in our immediate environments. Of course, the internet is the epitome of that. To be able to access multiple people and locations and experiences so quickly is the ultimate learning experience and it is invaluable. I don’t put it down because at least people are reading, but I would like people to still value the printed word too. A book has history in a way the internet does not. You remember where you purchased it. I remember my life through the books I’ve read. Like I remember exactly when I read Huckleberry Finn. That doesn’t happen with things I read on the internet. The experience is just completely different.

I did think about death recently because a person I knew for a long period of time passed away. As you get older that happens, but I don’t transfer that death to myself and where I am in the grand scheme of things. I am casual about death. The death part of death, the heavy part, is always negative. I’m more inclined to think of death through spirituality. I’ve lived with diabetes all my life, so from a health perspective, I wasn’t supposed to live this long. I like to hang out with people who are at different places in their lives, artists and all that, so that keeps me young.

This is the only gay and lesbian bookstore left in the entire South. I mean of the old variety, there’s nothing left. And it’s the second oldest one in the country. That’s not something I like to talk about, it’s more of a reality check. I’m trying to plan the future. It’s a matter of how to keep it open with the trend going in the other direction. I spend much too much time thinking about that stuff, and not enough time reading myself. I think I’m coming to the realization that some sort of foundation needs to be established. Otherwise I don’t see anyone standing in the wings to carry this burden. People these days just aren’t clamoring to run a bookstore. But as long as I can afford to do it, I will.”

Otis outside his shop on Frenchman Street, watching the world go by.

Otis outside his shop on Frenchman Street, watching the world go by.

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