From our Tattered archives:
In celebration of our 40th Birthday, Tattered Cover is pulling out the memories of four decades in the book business. Here is one from the “she’d rather we didn’t brag but we’re doing it anyway because she’s so deserving” file:
Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover, with Justice Brennan & others upon winning The William J. Brennan Award for Free Expression in 1996 by the Thomas Jefferson Center:
Photo taken at 1996 Brennan Award Ceremony at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Left to right: (standing) Anthony P. Griffin, 1993 Brennan Award recipient; Joyce Meskis,1996 Brennan Award recipient; Norman Dorsen, T.J.C.’s Board of Trustees; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg; John S. Battle, T.J.C.’s Board of Trustees; Robert M. O’Neil, T.J.C. Director; Edwin M. Freakley, T.J.C.’s Board of Trustees; Julie G. Lynn, T.J.C.’s Board of Trustees; Stanley E. Preiser, T.J.C.’s Board of Trustees; (sitting) Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. (retired); Bruce Sanford, Chairman, T.J.C.’s Board of Trustees.
THE WILLIAM J. BRENNAN, JR., AWARD
The William J. Brennan, Jr. Award honors the legacy of U. S. Supreme Court Justice Brennan’s extraordinary devotion to the principles of free expression. The award recognizes an individual or group whose commitment to free expression is consistent with Justice Brennan’s abiding devotion. Such commitment might be shown by a single act or through a lifetime of activity to enhance the liberties of free speech and press. The award is given not more than once a year or less than once in five years. The honoree receives the award in a ceremony at the United States Supreme Court. Nominees from all professions and backgrounds are considered.
[W]e consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
– Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., New York Times v. Sullivan, 1964
1996 Recipient Joyce Meskis
As the owner of Denver’s famed Tattered Cover Book Store, Joyce Meskis has made freedom of expression a centerpiece of the bookseller’s trade. “We’re doing more than just selling a product,” Meskis said in a Denver Post interview. “We’re in the marketplace of ideas, and we’re in the business of putting ideas and people together …. I realize there are books that some individuals would prefer not to see published. Not to stock, not to sell. Yet as booksellers, our job is to provide books of all kinds that people want to read.” Meskis has made the bookstore itself, which is regarded as one of the best in the nation, into a public forum. Numerous authors, including controversial figures from Oliver North to Hillary Clinton, are welcomed at the Tattered Cover each year. Listed below are further examples of Ms. Meskis’ long-standing devotion to freedom of expression:
- In 1994, Meskis started Colorado Citizens Against Censorship, a group that led a successful campaign against a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have made it easier for communities to label materials obscene.
- After two authors canceled their book-signings at the Tattered Cover in 1992 in protest against the anti-gay rights referendum passed by Colorado voters, Meskis told The New York Times: “We consider ourselves a forum for people and ideas and any effort to limit that plays right into the hands of the people who passed this referendum.”
- Threats of violence caused some large chain bookstores to stop selling The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie in 1989, but despite telephone threats, Meskis refused to pull the book.
- A 1981 lawsuit filed by Meskis resulted in striking down a state law that would have barred some books with sexual content from the shelves of stores that were open to children.
The dissemination of ideas can accomplish nothing if otherwise willing addresses are not free to receive and consider them. It would be a barren marketplace of ideas that only had sellers and no buyers.
– Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Lamont v. Postmaster General, 1965