Literary Boroughs #20: Denton, TX

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the twentieth post on Denton, Texas, by Kyle McCord and Justin Bigos. – Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

City: Denton, TX

With the sheer number of renowned writing programs and booming metropolises in Texas, it might be easy to overlook a town like Denton.  Often referred to as “Little D” because of its close proximity to Dallas, Denton is sometimes even called a “mini-Austin” because of its rich culture and (for Texas) liberal politics.

But visitors to Denton who arrive expecting the rushed pace of Dallas or the patent weirdness of Austin will find themselves surprised by this Texas college town.  While still tied to the arts scene in Dallas, Denton has birthed its own relaxed culture of coffee houses, cowboy bars, and a literary world wholly different from any of its Lone Star neighbors.  It’s little wonder that Denton often shows its face on the list of America’s “best small cities” and “100 Best Places to Live,” and continues to attract writers and other artists from around the country.

What the city is known for:

Music – the much-hyped 35 Denton music festival, the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival, and the University of North Texas’s premier music program, as well as former Denton musicians Norah Jones, Meatloaf, and Roy Orbison; coffee houses; the historic Courthouse Square; the sweaty bar scene on Fry Street; grackles; redbud trees; horse farms; “green” energy and architecture; tattoos and beards; the occasional tornado, and all the punishing heat you can handle.

Resident writers:

Poets Bruce Bond, Corey Marks, B.H. Fairchild, and new resident Gabrielle Calvocoressi.  Fiction and non-fiction writers Bonnie Friedman, Ann McCutchan, Miroslav Penkov, Barbara Rodman, and John Tait.  Larry McMurtry, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove, spent his formative years at the University of North Texas in Denton, and currently owns a used bookstore two hours west in Archer City.

Literary References:

Quakertown, an African-American settlement which existed in Denton from 1880 until 1920, has been the inspiration for multiple novels including Quakertown and Break the Skin by Lee Martin, and White Lilacs by Carolyn Meyer.  Musician Damien Jurado penned a song called “Denton, TX,” and the indie rock band the Mountain Goats are known to bring down the house with “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.”

Where to learn:

The University of North Texas, at the center of Denton, has a renowned creative writing program that offers degrees at the undergraduate, MA, and PhD levels.  UNT has recently elevated the stature of its program by hiring poet B.H. “Pete” Fairchild, as well as establishing the Rilke Prize for mid-career poets.  The inaugural winner of the prize was Laura Kasischke, for her book Space, In Chains (which then went on to win the National Book Critics Circle Award).  Kasischke received $10,000 and read at UNT, as well as at the Dallas Institute in Humanities and Culture.

Texas Woman’s University offers undergraduate classes in creative writing, rhetoric, and literature through its Department of English, Speech, and Foreign Languages.

Where to find reading material:

Ask residents of Denton where to buy books, and they’ll invariably point you toward the historic purple Opera House on the corner of Locust and Oak Streets, which has been the home of Recycled Books since 1983.  Despite its nearly 17,000 square feet of room to sprawl, Recycled still manages to tightly pack two buildings with an overwhelming number of used books, movies, and music.  And the prices can’t be beat: R.F. Foster’s two-volume biography of Yeats – in near-perfect condition, and normally retailing at $90 – was recently bought for $40.  With a steady flow of book lovers walking in and out of its doors, Recycled Books is at the heart of the local literary community

Books N’ More offers a less encyclopedic but more intimate space for bookstore patrons.  For those looking to borrow, Willis Library at UNT, TWU’s libraries, and Denton’s public Emily Fowler Library are sure to please as well.

Where to get published:

A number of literary journals and presses call Denton home. The American Literary Review and University of North Texas Press are published and staffed by UNT faculty and graduate students, and the online journals Lingerpost and iO: A Journal of New American Poetry have editors in Denton.  The town is also host to Spooky Girlfriend Press and the online literary resource LitBridge.

Where to write:

If you don’t love coffee when you arrive in Denton, you will when you leave.  Bring your notebook or laptop and join the droves of aspiring authors at any of the multitude of locally owned shops throughout town.

Jupiter House offers spacious indoor seating, as well as gleaming silver tables outside that are perfect for people-watching on Denton Downtown Square (or simply “the Square,” to locals).  The friendly staff work under a sign demanding, “Be Nice to the Hipsters: They Are Doing the Best They Can.”

The vegan-friendly bistro Banter is full of couches and cozy tables, serves a bottomless cup of coffee, and features almost-nightly live local music and open mics.

Art Six is, at first glance, an old white house with a porch swing.  Inside, writers can enjoy several quiet rooms, as well as the tree-canopied backyard and deck, which poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi describes as “totally huge and magical.”

The 24/7 Big Mike’s Coffee is one of the biggest hangout spots for writers in Denton.  Many writing faculty and grad students hold office hours – formal or otherwise – at Big Mike’s, and it’s nearly impossible not to run into other writers while getting your caffeine fix.  A common sight at Big Mike’s is poet Bruce Bond, who says the “noise of the coffee shop often broadens into a new kind of silence, a background of busy spirits much like the unconscious itself, a field of presences that refreshes and alleviates a shared solitude . . . Plus there’s coffee.”

The Square itself is a scenic wonder with its beautifully maintained courthouse, built in 1895 and now home to the Denton County Museum.  People are often seen lounging on its lawn, reading, writing, and (legally, though Denton is a “dry” county) drinking wine and beer.

Paschall Bar offers a bookshelved, dimly lit environment where patrons can spread out in armchairs and sip mixed drinks while composing their next poem, story, or novel chapter. The vintage décor, eclectic music, and wooden chessboards invite a leisurely evening.  And writers who want a bartender who will not look at them cock-eyed if they order a gimlet or dry Manhattan will not be disappointed.

Wine Squared is another cozy place to write, offering an affordable and very selective list of wines by the glass or bottle, microbrew beers, and gourmet cheeses and charcuterie.  And at least one of the sommeliers loves to talk books.


Each month, you can hear UNT graduate students read at the series hosted by the American Literary Review.  The more formal Visiting Writers Series sponsored by UNT features some of the more famous names in writing, such as recent visitors Carl Phillips, Wells Tower, Philip Lopate, and Stephen Dunn.

The Spiderweb Salon is run by a collective of local artists and stages live shows featuring “writers, singers, actors, poets, installation artists, playwrights, film makers, painters, sculptors, brewmasters, comedians, culinary artists, photographers, etc.”

The newly launched Kraken Reading Series, run by poets Justin Bigos and Kyle McCord and hosted by Paschall, features poets from the across the U.S., with a special eye toward up-and-coming talent.  This first year’s roster includes Matt Hart, Vievee Francis, Paul Otremba, Laurie Saurborn Young, Kara Candito, and eleven other poets. Reading afterparties take place at the homey, antique-filled Oak St. Drafthouse, a leader in Denton’s emerging beer and cocktail culture.


Kyle McCord is the author of three books of poetry: Galley of the Beloved in Torment (Dream Horse Press 2009) winner of 2008 Orphic Prize, a co-written book of epistolary poems entitled Informal Invitations to a Traveler (Gold Wake Press 2011), and Sympathy from the Devil (forthcoming from Gold Wake Press in 2013).  He has work featured in Boston ReviewColumbia Poetry JournalGulf Coast, Third Coast, Volt and elsewhere.  He is a teaching fellow in the PhD program in Creative Writing at the University of North Texas in Denton, TX.

Justin Bigos won the Ploughshares Reader’s Choice contest, and has also published his poems in magazines including The Gettysburg Review, The Collagist, Indiana Review, Crazyhorse, and Slice.  He is a second-year doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas, where he serves as Interviews Editor for the American Literary Review.


Photo Credits:

  • Denton Courthouse Square at night: City of Denton
  • Laura Kasischke with Bruce Bond (left) and Corey Marks (right): Lisa Vining
  • Recycled Books: Justin Bigos
  • Jupiter House coffee shop: Justin Bigos
  • Denton Courthouse lawn: Justin Bigos
  • Carl Phillips reading at UNT: Gwendolyn Edward
  • Oak Street Drafthouse: Justin Bigos
  • McCord author photo: Melissa Burton
  • Bigos author photo: Gwendolyn Edward