Behind the counter of Farewell Books

PictureMikaylah Bowman and Travis Kent in Sub, an exhibition featuring work by Erik Shane Swanson

Years ago, someone told me a story about Mikaylah Bowman. They told me that she was the singer in a band and if you went to see the band, you would witness her getting on stage, lying down, and screaming for the entire set. Despite her quiet demeanor, I chose to believe the story was true.

On a related note, I first experienced Travis Kent’s vision when Tiny Park Gallery hosted a night of Work Related, an experimental music series curated by Kent, featuring performances by Smokey Emery, Jennifer Moore, Barry Stone with Paul Stautinger, and Roseminna Watson. We turned off the fluorescent beams and listened to experimental music and violin by a single clamp light.

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“We’ll do it for as long as we possibly can,” says Kent, “But if we can reach someone with a book—that is something more rewarding than a successful fiscal day.”

Bowman and Kent are realistic about being a business that rents its space, and they have watched Cesar Chavez change over the years ever since their stints at Domy.

At Farewell, they have been cultivating what Bowman calls a “Farewell cult” and building toward their higher goals. Additional programs like Book Club and the Farewell Film Club invite book-buyers to stick around the store longer. They would like to restart the film club, which went on hiatus, to keep a sense of Farewell as a “night school,” where people can come to learn more about a new subject whether it be a work of fiction, visual art, or film.

2013 Farewell Books

For the past two years (plus four months and counting) Bowman and Kent have managed Farewell Books. They met while working at Domy Books. When Domy closed, they took over the lease, kickstarted a campaign, and opened Farewell on Valentine’s Day 2012.

The day-to-day life of Mikaylah Bowman and Travis Kent embodies how Austin both punishes and cultivates the citizens who work to maintain the city’s visual and literary communities.

“If you’re doing what you love, it doesn’t feel like work,” says Bowman.

They’re optimistic and committed to printed matter while working six to seven days a week. Bowman and Kent have taken turns juggling multiple jobs and have put their own creative pursuits on hold while they manage the bookstore and gallery.

“I don’t have time to clean my house,” describes Kent.

But still, Bowman and Kent keep setting their goals higher and higher. Both are extremely interested in “dealing in ephemera” and working to identify their specialty in rare or out of print books. They look up to booksellers like Brian Cassidy  and Karma bookstore in New York. In 2013, Bowman attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, which connected them to an international community of book dealers.

2013 Deprez

Jeremy Deprez, NOT A CRACK OR A SPLIT

“We still get calls about that [Jeremy Deprez] show,” says Kent.

It’s on their long list of to-do’s—growing connections with art buyers and getting people to trust their curatorial eye. The gallery has presented exhibitions by Jeremy DePrez, Lane Hagood, Aidan Koch, and Sam Sanford. For a recent exhibition of work by Nina Hartmann, Farewell published its first book, co-published with Boo Boo Books. Their second co-published book will feature drawings by artist Kevin McNamee-Tweed and comes out later this year.

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Adding publishing to Farewell’s programs serves two functions: providing a product that can be sold in other stores to spread the Farewell name and producing something that Bowman says “will outlive Farewell.”

The two won’t push books on you when you’re in the shop, and they’d love it if you sat down for an hour and read an entire graphic novel. But, if you slip into conversation with either, they just may convince you that a specific edition—with that incredible cover—needs to be in your collection. You will grow to regret that first edition of poems by Octavio Paz that you didn’t pick up (and someone smarter did).

“If Farewell can exist,” remarks Kent, “It is a testament to what Austin is.”


Their favorite books in the shop right now:

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CAR CRASH STUDIES / NICOLAI HOWALT / Études Books / 2012 / First Edition of 300, Numbered

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WHAT ABOUT THIS: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford / Copper Canyon Press / 2015 / 764 pages / Hardcover

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NOTEBOOKS: 1967 – 1970 / Lee Lozano / Primary Information / 2009 / First Edition


Thao Votang is co-editor of Conflict of Interest. Votang is director of communications at the Department of Art and Art History at UT Austin including the Visual Arts Center. She co-founded Tiny Park.

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