Ken Sanders Rare Books

Ken Sanders Rare Books, a true cultural staple in THE BLOCKS and a local treasure, was founded in 1990 and has been at its downtown location since 1997. You can find all manner of things in the quaint shop. The vast collection includes art, ephemera, maps, postcards, and photography in addition to new, used, and rare books.

While on a business trip to Paris (check out this interview he did for a Paris news station) Ken Sanders took a few moments to tell us about his store, its mission and the future of Ken Sanders Rare Books.

What is the mission of Ken Sanders Rare Books?

To promote literacy and culture through the printed word. To provide tools to increase awareness and social justice. To further authors and artists whose causes we believe in. To gain exposure and respect for Utah authors and artists such as Wallace Thurman, May Swenson, Bernard DeVoto, Maurine Whipple, Dale Morgan, Juanita Brooks, Wallace Stegner, Edward Abbey, Raymond F. Jones, Terry Tempest Williams, Ellen Melody, Amy Irvine, Scott Carrier, Trent Harris, Alex Caldiero, Leia Bell, Trent Call, Ken Brewer, David Lee, Donna Poulton, Sandy Anderson, Nancy Takacs, Sara Caldiero and so many more.

Our downtown bookshop is overflowing with over 100,000 books of all kinds: science, philosophy, religion and metaphysics, children’s literature and illustrated books, wordless novels and woodcuts, mystery and detective fiction, fantasy and science fiction, western explorations and travels, Utah and the Mormons, Native Americans and the West, literature and a vast selection of poetry, natural history, the outdoors, National Parks and Wilderness, sustainability, social justice, archaic skills, radical politics, labor and IWW. The bookshop regularly hosts author readings, poetry readings, musical performances and visual and other artistic endeavors.


What are the murals of on the side of the building? Who painted them and why were those subjects chosen?

The murals on the exterior walls have grown organically and mostly the artists have reached out to us. We had long desired a Trent Call mural and he kindly obliged with “Come In And Remember What A Book Smells Like.” It is so far, the lone mural on the south side of the building, in the alley.

On the north side, against our parking wall, we’re very proud to provide space for the JOE HILL/ IWW mural. Josh and Heidi Belka created it for their local union, but it was painted over. Joe Hill was a labor organizer for the Wobblies and was framed and executed for a murder he didn’t commit, by the state of Utah in 1915.

Being that the shop is a cultural staple in THE BLOCKS and has been for some time, how have you seen the arts and culture scene evolve over the years? How have you seen the shop fitting into that ecosystem?

I believe that we have helped to create what you term an ecosystem. We don’t react to things, instead we’re constantly attempting to evoke and define the future. If that seems contradictory, because we also live in the past and push the past through our vast holdings of books, maps, photographs, prints and other cultural artifacts; then you need to spend more time within the confines of our walls. Think of KSRB as a metaphysical Tardis, if you will. The inside (and outside) is trying to expand the consciousness waiting to be found inside your own brains.
On the other hand, as the late Edward Abbey once opined: “I ain’t never heard of a mountain lion bawling over the fate of its metaphysical soul.”
We ain’t no museum, although folks often perceive us as one. Edward Abbey and Willa Cather, Wallace Stegner and Gertrude Stein, Wendell Berry and Emily Dickinson, Bernard DeVoto and Margaret Atwood and thousands of others all live here, albeit they do not always get along. Living or dead.


What does the future of Ken Sanders Rare Books look like?

If Ken Sanders Rare Books, and other unique, small indie businesses are indeed an integral part of Salt Lake City’s cultural fabric, then its time for our community and governmental leaders to step us and help all of us thrive. If not, then, speaking for myself, my Shop and inventory, and all that has become my life’s work will, in the very near future, fade away.

I’ve had a good run, I’ve met and become friends with an astonishing body of creative people over a lifetime. What other community boasts such a wealth of creative diversity as Alex Caldiero and Terry Tempest Williams, Scott Carrier and Amy Irvine,  Kate MacLeod and Trent Harris, Leia Bell and Trent Call, and so many others. I have tried to make a difference.