Giant of US indie bookselling dies


Joyce Meskis, one of the giants of US independent bookselling who transformed Tattered Cover in Denver into one of the world’s most famous independent bookstores, has died.  She passed away on 22 December at the age of 80.

Many tributes have been paid by colleagues past and present, among them Oren Teicher, former CEO of the American Booksellers Association, who said: “Joyce was one of the first people I met in the book business, back in the late ’80s. She had a profound influence on everything I did for the next 35-plus years. All of us who had the privilege of working and knowing her are better off as a result.

“Not only did she invent the modern indie bookstore, but she framed the debate over free speech in a way no one else ever did. Her courageous stands were legendary. Long before it was fashionable, Joyce also led the way in treating all employees with dignity and respect. She set a standard for integrity that was unmatched.

“Anyone who knew Joyce also knew that she was a fiercely private person and would shun off any and all accolades that came her way, but no one deserves to be praised more than she. The Tattered Cover, the larger Denver community and the entire book industry have lost a giant.”

Meskis bought the original store in 1974 and began its steady expansion.  It was one of the first bookstores to have a full-service restaurant and Meskis pioneered many innovations that are now common in indie bookstores, notably cafes and encouraging customers to sit and read.

Staff wrote on the store’s website: “The store grew as Denver did, eventually becoming one of the largest and most revered bookstores in America. During Meskis’s tenure, Tattered Cover was also a bastion of the First Amendment, earning Joyce many awards for her activism.


“Joyce is the reason why we are all able to call Tattered Cover home. Joyce was a literary lioness that evolved our industry in a way that few others had done before her. She was also a friend and mentor to so many at Tattered Cover and around the globe.”

Meskis was also a fierce advocate of freedom of expression, receiving many awards along the way.  She founded the Colorado Freedom of Expression Foundation and won the Jean Otto Friend of Freedom Award from the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition and the William J. Brennan, Jr. Award from the Thomas Jefferson Centre for the Protection of Free Expression. She also won the Gordon Saul Memorial Award for Bookseller of the Year in 1997 from the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association and was the recipient of an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Denver as well as the Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Achievement and Exceptional Service to the Denver Metropolitan Area from the University of Colorado.

Staff added: “We are currently coming up with ways to honour Joyce and her global legacy and will keep you apprised of any new information. For now, please hug your colleagues, family, and friends. Life is too short.”