Photograph courtesy of Maple Street Book Shop.
Mary Stuart Kellogg in white; Rhoda K. Faust slouching to the right.
It takes a special person to open a bookstore, someone with a mix of optimism, compassion, endless curiosity about the lives of others and, perhaps, a bit of delusion.
In the five decades since Mary Stuart Kellogg and her sister, Rhoda Norman, established Maple Street Book Shop, generations of readers have embraced the little wood-frame sanctuary as a second home. Mary’s daughter, Rhoda K. Faust, later took over the store and ran it for decades. We count ourselves grateful beneficiaries of these women’s long legacy (which we wrote about recently in our tribute Thank You, Maple Street Book Shop).
In celebration of Mary Kellogg’s life and her gift to the New Orleans literary landscape, novelist Christine Wiltz reflects on this influence.
It’s a poignant elegy that will make you think about the influential forces in your own life and also the way that bookstores become essential elements of our biographies.
*This article was written for the occasion of a recent memorial for Mary Stuart Kellogg at Maple Street Book Shop, which is scheduled to close after fifty-one years of serving the community. Please support them.
UPDATE January 2016: Great news! Maple Street Book Shop has announced that they intend to remain open through 2016 because of community support.
By Christine Wiltz
Mary Stuart Kellogg became part of my life in 1964, soon after she and her sister, Rhoda Norman, opened Maple Street Book Shop. In our senior year of high school, Rhoda, her daughter, and I became inseparable friends, and I found myself spending more time at their house than my own.
Their house was in a fairly constant state of chaos, with four children and their friends coming and going, everyone trying to be heard over everyone else, over the music and over the front door slamming every few minutes.
One evening, about ten o’clock, the house suddenly cleared out. I was waiting for Rhoda to return home from a date with a guy who’d shown up with a single black rose and a motorcycle. Mary told Rhoda she couldn’t go off on a motorcycle with a guy Mary had never met. They argued until Rhoda roared off with her date and Mary locked herself in her bedroom.
I was alone downstairs and did not figure I’d see Mary again until the morning. But soon after the quiet was firmly established, Mary came down, showed no surprise I was there, but instead asked me if I’d like to sit on the front porch with her; it was clear we were both waiting for Rhoda.
Rhoda was the most free-spirited, articulate and free-thinking person I’d ever met, and I soon understood where she’d come by these qualities I loved in her.
Mary was all of that and the wonder of it all was that she didn’t treat me like her daughter’s friend but like I was her friend as well. That night we talked about books and what we liked to read, then Mary told me how and why she and Rhoda Norman had opened the bookshop, about her marriage and divorce—more as a cautionary tale—and a thoughtful analysis of how things began to go wrong between two people. I don’t remember saying much—I was entranced and enchanted with this beautiful woman—yes, a blonde Audrey Hepburn—her soft voice and her way of thinking. And her humor. We laughed a lot that night.
About an hour and a half later, Rhoda roared up, and the date revved the cycle and left on his rear wheel. Rhoda walked up the steps to her mother and me having a total fit of laughter.
After that, Mary and I were friends. I grew to love her for herself and for changing my life. In one short evening, Mary showed me how to think for myself. I had begun to see that I had more choices in life than I’d ever supposed I would, than I’d ever thought or dreamed.
After Mary Stuart Kellogg came into my life, I dared to believe in myself and not in what was expected of me as a young woman in the mid-1960s. It did not mean that life was going to be easier, but it’s hard to imagine how difficult it would have been if I’d never met Mary.
Mary lives on in her four wonderful children, her grandchildren, her friends and family, and at least in one person she never tried to influence but did. Profoundly.
Christine Wiltz is the author of five novels, as well as The Last Madam: A Life in the New Orleans Underworld. Her most recent novel is Shoot the Money. She received the Louisiana Writer Award in 2013.
Do you have a favorite Maple Street Book Shop memory? Read more stories here and share yours with us in the comments section below.