COVID-19 Update – We hope this blog can offer inspiration for your future safe adventures, however, we do want to make you aware of the current restrictions in place in Taos and New Mexico – for up-to-date visitor information, please visit here.
The literary legacy of the written word in Taos dates back to the 1800s when Padre Jose Antonio Martinez, priest and educator, helped bring the first printing press to New Mexico. Soon after, Taos became a haven for the creative soul. In the early 20th century literary notables Willa Cather, D. H. Lawrence and others arrived in the area. Like the fine arts, literary arts flourished and the need for formal community support became apparent. This led to the incorporation of a nonprofit organization: the Society of the Muse of the Southwest (SOMOS) in 1983.
Since then, SOMOS has expanded into our present role as a respected literary resource center whose outreach extends to the greater community of Northern New Mexico— and beyond. Today we boast over 600 members from all over the world. The generosity of our supporters allows us to honor our commitment of presenting the very best of the literary arts at little to no cost when possible. Our live readings, workshops, festivals and annual Taos Writers Conference not only showcase local, regional and national writers but also encourage creativity in novice writers from all walks of life. Our weekly e-newsletter keeps people informed about literary events and writers’ opportunities. Our mission statement says it all: We support and nurture the literary arts, written and spoken, by providing both place and resources for writers, readers, and learners while honoring the cultural diversity of Taos and the Southwest region.
We are located at 108 Civic Plaza Drive, within the emerging Civic Plaza Cultural Corridor and just a short walk from Historic Taos Plaza. Our space has a large room that doubles as a bookshop and a salon for literary gatherings, two separate classrooms, a ten-space parking lot in back and on-street parking in front. The building itself has three spaces. We currently occupy two of these; the third is a rental unit that provides us income now and space for future growth.
Although SOMOS moved into our current space in May 2016, it wasn’t until early 2019 that it became ours. An unexpected bequest received in late 2016 from Sue Carol Francis of Fort Collins, CO, allowed SOMOS to dream of a brighter future. Shortly after we received the donation, the building that we were renting was put up for sale. Using the bequest to make a down payment, we embarked on an ambitious journey. Our goal was to raise enough money to purchase the property and secure a permanent place for words in Taos. Through the encouragement of our membership and other supporters and the generosity of those who contributed to our capital campaign, our dream became a reality. In early 2019, we were able to pay off the building. Our salon is open to members and others for use by writing groups, for book launches and signings, musical concerts, plays and other events. A full-time Executive Director oversees operations with help from a part-time administrative assistant and development coordinator. Paid curators oversee our main events. A corps of enthusiastic and devoted volunteers ensure we meet our mission by helping run the bookshop and engaging in other tasks large and small.
In addition to our annual flagship events—the Taos Writers Conference, Poetry Month, Prose Month, Young Writers Program and the Storytelling Festival—SOMOS collaborates with local organizations such as the Harwood Museum of Art, the PASEO Project, University of New Mexico-Taos, Taos United, Taos Immigrant Allies, Taos Public Schools, Taos Center for the Arts, Taos Public Library, the Town of Taos, Taos MainStreet, Taos Bebop Society and numerous other entities and businesses to sponsor diverse activities such as Writers Showcase, Poetry & Art in Public Places, Poetry & Art Walk, Poetry & Jazz, Taos Environmental Film Festival, and Literary Dinners to name a few.
The Young Writers Program (YWP) was inaugurated in 1992 to provide a creative, stimulating and nurturing environment to encourage young writers, ages twelve to eighteen, to express themselves through spoken and written words. For the first twenty-two years, the program took place over a fourth-month period (typically January through April) and offered one-on-one mentoring with adult writers and a series of writing workshops (from songwriting to poetry), culminating in a final celebration and public readin. Beginning in 2014, we expanded the program to ten months a year and to include middle-schoolers. In 2018, a group of young writers worked with talented local poets to edit and publish a chapbook of poetry and flash fiction titled A Basket of Words. In 2019, our twenty-seventh year, we collaborated with the Taos Center for the Arts, Taos Behavioral Health and the Taos Middle School for an exhibit of student writing—“Stand Up: Student Voices on Bullying.”
Through a founding grant from the Witter Bynner Foundation in December 2017, SOMOS initiated the inaugural Taos Poet Laureate program. Local poet Sawnie Morris served from January 2018 through December 2019. Her project “Poetry in Waiting” involved over forty installations of excerpts from poems throughout the town of Taos in locations ranging from Holy Cross Hospital and Taos Pueblo to hair salons, medical offices, auto repair shops, veterinarian clinics, coffee shops and other locales. Many of the locations requested their installations remain permanently. In January 2020, judges named long-time Taos resident Catherine Strisik as the new Poet Laureate. Her project “Poetry in Nature” entails installation of nature poems on stones, walls and pillars in natural environment locations on both public and private lands. She solicited submissions from throughout the country noting that poems should be sensitive to the nature and culture of northern New Mexico.
The SOMOS Bookshop’s humble beginnings date to the 1990s when board members Phyllis and Sy Hotch sold books outside the SOMOS office in one of its previous locations. Since then, the store has been stocked solely with used books donated by members and the public as well as new books by local and regional authors. The collection of used books numbers in the thousands, categorized into nearly 70 subjects ranging from poetry and fiction to cooking and spirituality. Books by local and regional authors are constantly replenished with new offerings, and there is an archive collection of books by Taos literary celebrities. A never-ending stream of donations keeps our shelves well-stocked.
Our reasonable prices keep loyal customers coming back and are a pleasant surprise to those who happen to wander in. Some items are individually priced but the bulk of our inventory sells as follows: hard and softcover books for $3.00; mass-market books 50 cents each or five for $1.00; children’s/young adult hardcover $1.00; children’s/young adult softcover 50 cents; CDs 50 cents; and DVDs $1.00. New books by local and regional authors are sold at full retail price plus tax.Free books are available to the public and placed on bookshelves outside our front and back doors.
For those who love books and the literary arts, no trip to Taos is complete without a visit to SOMOS. You can help support our mission by becoming a member. Annual membership entitles you to discounts at SOMOS and SOMOS-sponsored events and a subscription to our weekly newsletter. For further info and to check our current and future events check out our website at https://somostaos.org/.
Author: Maria Teresa Garcia is the current president of the SOMOS Board of Directors. She served on the board in the 90s and is proud of the non-profit’s growth over the years. Among the Board’s goals is continuing to broaden the audience of people who are drawn to its ever-expanding programs.