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Literary Tourism

Literary Tourism: Tucson, Arizona

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Jessica Pryde

Contributing Editor

Jessica Pryde is a member of that (some might call) rare breed that grew up in Washington, DC, but is happily enjoying the warmer weather of the desert Southwest. While she is still working on what she wants to be when she grows up, she’s enjoying dabbling in librarianship and writing all the things. She can be found drowning in her ever-growing TBR and exclaiming about romance in the Book Riot podcast (When in Romance), as well as on social media. Find her exclamations about books and pho on twitter (JessIsReading) and instagram (jess_is_reading).

When my husband and I made the decision to move to his hometown, I used the knowledge gathered from several trips out to visit family and lots of online research to prepare for my future home. This included knowing how I would be satisfying my bookish needs, between finding independent bookstores and making myself aware of the bookish community.  And of course, finding out about the literary history of my new home!

Tucson is one of those small wonders that people don’t really know about unless they’ve been here. It’s got a laid-back, artsy culture, spanning the entire spectrum of personality and personal belief. It’s also got a great cultural feel to it, matching that of any other small metropolis.

The Bookstores

If there’s one thing Tucson is definitely not short on, it’s local and indie bookstores. Whether you’re looking for something used, new, rare, or specialty, there’s at least one store that can cater to your needs.

Fourth Avenue

Fourth Avenue is one of the quirky corridors frequented by students and townies alike. Along with several food choices, smoke shops and thrift stores reminiscent of an earlier time, you can also find at one end Antigone Books (a self-declared “zany, independent, 100% solar-powered bookstore”), and at the other, The Book Stop.


A Tucson institution since 1976, the collection of Bookmans stores is a booklover’s dream. Situated in spaces as-large-as or larger-than a big box bookstore, each Bookmans houses shelves and shelves worth of materials old and new. The people who work there, in my experience, have been welcoming and knowledgeable, and I have to keep my hands in my pockets if I’m not interested in leaving with something. I’ve even created a tag on Goodreads for books that have been on my to-read list forever that I have come across there. For a rainy day, you know.

Comic Books

No city can be complete without at least one comics store. There are a few here, and they provide ample coverage across Tucson’s sprawl. Fantasy Comics, the largest (that I’ve found), is a co-sponsor for Tucson’s annual Comic Con, which this year will host several interesting guests, including Eisner Recipient Vivek J. Tiwary (which I’m really excited about).

The Libraries

Pima County Public Library

With 27 branches, the Pima County Public Library System sizes larger than the system I just came from. Plus, Book Barn!

University of Arizona Libraries

This isn’t just a consortium of libraries, there’s also the Arizona Historical Society and more.  Not to mention, you can study with a view. (I would not be able to sit right here. I would end up just staring out the window.)

The view from one of the study areas on the top floor of the UA Main Library

The view from one of the study areas on the top floor of the UA Main Library

Arizona Inn

Not a working library, but a beautiful place to chill and enjoy the day. Or evening.


The Festival of Books!

Every year since 2009, the University of Arizona and other organizations have sponsored a large festival featuring authors, publishers, and other exhibitors. I’ve heard lots of great things from friends, family, and even other Rioters, and I look forward to hanging out in this vortex of awesome next March!


The People

While notables like David Foster Wallace and Barbara Kingsolver have lived here in the past, there isn’t much chance of an Author Sighting here. It does seem, though, that if you scope around the University of Arizona and the Writers’ Studio Tucson, you will find some up and coming talent. Pick a name out of the crowd and say you knew them when…

Books In Tucson

Big printing would probably tell you there are fewer than fifteen books out in the world that have a Southern Arizona setting. Google and Goodreads will give you lists numbering the few books, ranging from mystery to urban fantasy, that list Tucson as their location. I haven’t read any of these books, but I definitely plan on picking up Richelle Mead’s Dark Swan series. Barbara Kingsolver’s High Tide in Tucson is probably the most famous book with “Tucson” in the title of the current age. Her first novel, The Bean Trees, is well-loved and actually takes place here.

If you dig into the University of Arizona Press, though, past the anthropology and cultural studies (unless they’re your thing, which they totally are for me), you will find some literary gems that definitely exploded my to-read list…again. I’m particularly excited for Demigods on Speedway (a road I’ve driven up and down a million times in the past two months), which sounds like loads of fun, in that really messed up kind of way. It comes out in a few months. The titles alone in the fiction section of UAP’s listings make for fun reading. I really look forward to reading some of these in the near future, once I get my hands on copies.


Southern Arizona is a beautiful mountainous region filled with Saguaro cacti and coyotes. You can go hiking, or get sepia photos taken at Old Tucson, or ride your motorcycle down Roller Coaster Road a la The Wraith. I’m working on learning about the history of the city, and for that I love the Images of America series, starting with Early Tucson.

There’s so much I still don’t know about Tucson, but I can say I’ll be surrounded by literary possibilities.