GameChanger: Emma Snyder

We catch up with the owner of The Ivy Bookshop.
—Photography by Christopher Myers

A former executive director of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, Emma Snyder returned to her native Baltimore in 2017 to join Ed and Anna Berlin as a co-owner of Mount Washington’s Ivy Bookshop and Charles Village’s Bird in Hand Café & Bookstore. Two years later, the Berlins, readying for retirement, sold both to Snyder. Not long after, she moved Ivy, an institution for Baltimore readers, from its shopping center location to a new home—a big stucco house on several acres around the corner on Falls Road. Weathering COVID, the Ivy has bounced back with a full slate of events and Snyder now plans to open another shop inside Hampden’s Whitehall Market—one more addition to the city’s burgeoning independent bookstore scene.

Your favorite book is The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, and it convinced you to move to Louisiana. Is that an example of the power of reading?
Definitely. I sometimes say the move was based on The Moviegoer, Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, and the movie Passion Fish by John Sayles, all of which I experienced within the course of a year of my young life. The Moviegoer is transcendently wonderful. Part of it is what the right book at the right time can do for a person. It provided a kind of infrastructure for an interior life. The idea of the search, and the idea of being attentive to everydayness that propels the protagonist through the novel. I read it when I was 19. Reading has the capacity to be a physiological, spiritual experience, and pure pleasure experience. It also has this ability to stay with you because it gets integrated into your sense of self and can then inform your decisions.

The National Book Awards are announced in November. What have you read recently that you loved or are reading now?
One writer I absolutely love is Irish author Anne Enright. Her new novel is The Wren. Another is German writer Jenny Erpenpeck. She has a book called Go, Went, Gone. It’s her reflecting back on the nature of her relationship with an older married man after his death and her first experiences leaving East Germany and going to the West. It somehow brilliantly layers political thinking and philosophy and the intensity and devastating transformational effect of a first doomed love affair.

The local literary scene has never seemed so vibrant. You grew up here. Does it feel that way to you?
Baltimore is such a creative, sincere, open, and collaborative space in cultural and artistic terms. It’s managing to maintain an authentic, creative cultural life that some cities are struggling with—partly because it’s hard to find places with an affordable cost of living on the East Coast. You can still take some risks here, you can still try to live a creative life, and I think that’s connected to this groundswell of activity. Ideas and a sort of playfulness abound here.