Whistles women: Eleanor Vonne Brown

On a dependably rainy afternoon in London, we journey across the central line to Bethnal Green to visit X Marks the Bökship founder Eleanor Vonne Brown at her inimitable bookstore and project spaceLocated moments past the Museum of Childhood, opposite a second hand car garage, we discover the entrance walled by geometric wooden sculptures, that on closer inspection, reveal themselves as bespoke stadium benches – evidence of the last literary event. 

Once inside, we are warmly greeted by Vonne Brown and her sensitively curated stock, a far cry from archetypal coffee table books. As an advocate of contemporary publishing and self initiated works, she hosts book launches that bring together individual practitioners to create a publishing community and dialogue. Her most popular gig is a regular book club called, ‘I’ve never read her’ that revisits short fictions and essays by female writers.

From her beginnings working for, and later working with, Donlon books and as an assistant to English artist Fiona Banner (shortlisted for the Turner prize), Vonne Brown’s art led background is evident, throughout her space and considered approach to each X Marks the Bökship event and project. 

We speak to Vonne Brown about the space, her inspirations, personal style, rising rent prices and the future of independent publishing.

Where do you discover new books?

Either they find me, by publishers bringing them into the shop, or I order books from specialist distributors like Motto, Anagram Books or Antenne Books.

Many of the events you host are focused around women – who are your biggest female inspirations?

I’m inspired by the amount of people that I meet who are working on their books and self initiated projects and getting their stuff out there. Phoebe Blatton runs the Coelacanth Press, which recently published a new edition Brigit Brophy’s King of the Rainy Country. Sara De Bondt runs one of my favorite publishing house’s Occasional Papers with Anthony Hudek.

Can you name one piece of clothing you couldn’t live without?

Over the winter months it has been my acid yellow coat. I’ve worn it nearly every day. At first I felt self-conscious wearing something so bright but now I hardly notice I’m wearing it. I love the colour and need to find something in a similar colour I can wear during the summer.

You can now find X Marks the Bökship at ^ Matt’s Gallery, 42 – 44 Copperfield Road, Mile End, London, E3 4RR, for talks, events and book club information, visit the website here.

How do you think working in print publishing has affected your personal style?

Most of the clothes I own have ink or paint on. I used to have studio clothes and my favourite clothes but I always end up wearing my favourite clothes to do messy work in. Most of what I wear is pretty practical, I need to be able to put up shelves, get up ladders, carry boxes of books and run around a lot.

Can you tell us more about your monthly book club ‘I’ve never read her’?

The book club was proposed by a young literature student Jessie McLaughlin. The premise was to revisit female writers who although we might have heard about we had never read. It started with classics like Catherine Mansfield and Doris Lessing, but we have tried to read further afield like Egypt’s Nawal El Saadawi or Brazil’s Clarice Lispector. I now have a bookshelf full of female authors to rebalance my tendency to chose well known male authors.

The shop receives a large amount of post, can you tell us about your favourite and most obscure mail that you have received?

The contents themselves are not so obscure, usually printed matter, but the senders are often artists and illustrators who like to draw and collage all over the packaging. Each is like an artwork. It must be fun for the post office to sort through them all.  Earlier this year I had a postcard exhibition called The Postcard is a Public Work of Art and many people sent me unique postcards during that time from all over the world Japan, Australia, and South Africa.  

What’s next for you and X Marks the Bökship? 

I’m going to go to open in a brilliant gallery called Matt’s Gallery in Mile End, east London for six months. They have invited me to use a space there and I will have a small shop and project space. They have a great artists’ program and like to publish too. 

Do you have any tips on storing books?

I’m a fan of books being on face-out shelves (covers being on display) Its a good way to display records and books without spines and means that you don’t forget that you have them.  The best places to keep books are places where you can remind yourself to look at them, like in you bag. Otherwise you are just storing things you never look at. 

What do you like most about X Marks the Bökship?

I like having a social space to have conversations with people about their books. I stock publications by independent publishers and most of the people who visit are authors, artists, designers and publishers. It’s also great to be surrounded by so many beautiful, innovative books.

Due to the rising London rent prices, we're sad to hear that X Marks the Bökship is closing and grateful we had the opportunity to document the space. Where would your dream new location for the store be?

I always imagined it would be fun to have a bookshop on a boat. I recently read about a woman called Sarah Henshaw who has a book barge in a canal boat that is traveling round the country. I can also imagine myself running a bookshop in a pub.