“I’m a senior at Marquette Academy, and besides reading, writing is one of my favorite activities. I want to write for the newspaper to give myself some experience with working with a deadline that is not self-imposed.”
That’s how Gabriella Crivilare introduced herself as a Times teen columnist back in August 2011. She continued:
“Writing is important to me not only because it allows me to express my thoughts and opinions, but because it also lets me explore alternate timelines and realities. Some of my goals include to publish a novel and to become a casting director.”
From there, she wrote once a month, offering opinions and insight on theater, art, violin, writing novels and — one I especially liked — a well-reasoned takedown of the unfortunate outbreak of boring, beige houses.
After leaving Marquette, Crivilare went off to Knox College in Galesburg, graduating in 2016. She then accepted a summer residency in the children’s literature program at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va., when opportunity knocked.
Eileen Fesco was closing The Book Mouse, downtown Ottawa’s beloved bookstore. Rock Paper Scissors owners Mary Olson, Crivilare’s mother, connected the dots, and on Oct. 21, 2016, Prairie Fox Books opened with Crivilare behind the counter.
“Aside from working the counter at Rock Paper Scissors, I didn’t have experience with running a retail business,” Crivilare told me Friday. “I’m not sure I even remember selling Girl Scout cookies. So I’ve learned by doing.”
She credits her mother and “invaluable” Dylan Conmy, continuing his Book Mouse work, as great teachers in the mechanics of running a shop. But there’s no denying the importance of a lifelong passion for reading and writing plays a key role in making Prairie Fox the perfect fit.
“The surprising thing is that if I really sit down and think about it, I’m not so sure I had solid career plans, which is a shock because I do like to plan for the future. I did know I wanted to be involved in the literary world in some capacity, though, whether it was as an author, writing teacher or working on a literary journal of some kind.”
Those talents flourished at Knox, where Crivilare worked with the genre literary magazine Quiver, allowing her to review submissions and take part in writing workshops. Just before graduation she got word two short stories were accepted for publication in online literary magazines, and since then she’s working as a reader for an agent, giving feedback on manuscripts and helping friends who ask for help with their own writing.
“Currently I’m waiting to hear back on another short story, and I’m still writing. I don’t know what else will present itself in the future, but I’m looking forward to it regardless.”
Life as a casting director might not be in the cards, but I wouldn’t rule out that novel. Especially since it’s clear how much of Crivilare’s work at the book store keeps her deeply connected in the world of the written word.
“Booksellers influence trends in book sales, review on blogs and other outlets, host and are involved in literary events,” she said. “Ann Patchett, a best-selling author, co-owns Parnassus Books in Nashville. The literary world, to me, is actually a combination of the spheres of authors, others in the publishing industry and booksellers. They all depend on each other.”
Towns like Ottawa depend on people like Olson and Crivilare to offer unique retail opportunities — inventory, experience and personal contact that can’t be replicated online or at a nationwide chain. For a young woman whose childhood included frequent visits to Reddick Library and the local shop, her current career represents something of a full circle.
“There’s nothing like wandering through all the shelves in the library or at a store and discovering something you weren’t looking for,” she said. “My relatives always asked my parents if they weren’t sure there was something else I wanted as a gift other than a book or gift card for the Book Mouse.”
Yet as natural as the fit seems, there was nothing preordained.
“I don’t think I ever thought that owning a bookstore was a realistic life goal, but it was kind of an out-there dream, you know, ‘the ideal.’ Then the opportunity just presented itself.”
She’s only been running the store for about 18 months, and her writing career is in relative infancy. But I never bet against someone with big dreams, a drive to succeed and a willingness to take a chance and trust their own ability.
SCOTT T. HOLLAND is a former associate editor of The Times who continues to contribute his column plus help with editing and writing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/salmagundi or twitter.com/sth749.