by Jack Garcia
I met Brad Kramer, the owner of Writ & Vision in downtown Provo, Utah, for the first time last month when peculiar was cohosting a queer poetry open mic at his location. I walked into the shop, noticing the playful religious candles with white-shirt-and-tied missionaries in the front window along with other obvious nods to the Mormon faith, and headed toward the sound of his voice. A long, narrow shop, the front half looked like your typical bookstore, but the second half blossomed into an open, airy, gallery space with a second-level balcony. He shook my hand, wearing a t-shirt featuring the ladies from The Golden Girls.
“I have that same shirt!” I told him.
He smiled. I knew instantly that Brad Kramer was a very cool guy.
I’ve since learned that Kramer’s love of literature and history runs deep. He studied Russian Literature at Brigham Young University, then earned a Masters in US History at the University of Utah before moving to Ann Arbor to earn his PHD in anthropology from the University of Michigan. He is currently a professor of anthropology at Utah Valley University, aside from the owner of Writ & Vision—a fine art gallery and rare books dealer.
“So how did this all come to be?” I asked him, gesturing around me while sitting on the steps leading to the upper level that looks down at the gallery space. He was hanging canvases—stunning woodblock prints—while he spoke, hammering nails and using a level to make sure everything was just right.
“Well, I moved back to Salt Lake City to work on my dissertation…” he began. While researching what he describes as the patterns of silence and “unmentionability” in the structuring of the sacred in Mormonism, he was working for the Mormon press Greg Kofford Books where his favorite responsibility was planning the book signings and panel discussions. Many of the events were held at what was then Zion’s Books, where Writ & Vision now resides.
Kramer and Ryan Roos, the owner of Zion’s Books, developed a great working relationship and Kramer “kinda became his defacto public events manager.” Eventually another opportunity came Roos’ way, and he asked if Kramer would like to take over the bookstore for him. At first Kramer said no, worrying about the financial risks of keeping a brick-and-mortar bookstore afloat, and it wasn’t until he had a conversation with an artist he knew, Kirk Richards, that he even began to entertain the idea—but not just as a bookstore.
“If you buy it and turn it into a gallery, I’ll sell my stuff,” Richards said, in Kramer’s recollected paraphrase.
Another friend of Kramer’s, Glen Nelson, co-director of the Mormon Arts Center, invited him to New York City to tour dozens of art galleries, meet with curators and gallerists, and really get a feel for running an art gallery.
Returning to Utah, Kramer took the plunge and told Roos, “Okay, I’ll run it.”
In April 2015, Zion’s Books was rebranded as Writ & Vision. “We have to give credit to Rusty Clifton, who did the brand design,” Kramer interjected. “He did phenomenal work.” As for the name, it was crowd-sourced on Facebook.
Writ & Vision’s first art show naturally featured Kirk Richards, whose work is very popular—“not Deseret Book art,” Kramer quipped, but work that “pushes the boundaries of devotional art”—and sold very well. Of his hybrid bookstore/gallery, Kramer commented, “A bookstore is much more inviting, not ‘snooty’ like a gallery, but it’s the art that pays the bills.” Since then, the store has done an art exhibit a month, as well as hosted music performances, poetry readings, author meet-and-greets, and other community events.
Like most living in Provo, Kramer grew up a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and still attends church once or twice a month where he plays the organ. Admittedly, his wife Tracey and their five children attend much more regularly. I commented that while his store is first and foremost a Mormon establishment, I’ve noticed that he, himself, is very liberal—which some might find to be a contradiction.
“I have one foot here and one foot there, and whenever I feel like I’m being pulled too far one way, I work really hard to regain a toehold.” He still believes many tenets of the LDS faith, but also feels disillusioned with current leadership and recent policy changes—specifically a change announced last year regarding a ban on baptisms for the children of same-sex couples. “What we’re doing to queer kids is the wickedest thing going on in the Church.”
“I want Writ & Vision to be a gathering place of diverse Mormon voices,” Kramer told me. “A place where marginalized Mormons feel safe: queer Mormons, feminist Mormons, Mormons of color, even ex-Mormons…” As an ally, he feels he has an “obligation to help queer Mormons. It’s the most important thing we can be doing.” But he also recognizes the balance between being proactive and staying in his “own lane.”
In coordinating the queer poetry open mic the month prior, I had asked for his input several times, even asking if he would like some time to speak at the event, to which he had humbly declined. “This is your reading. I don’t want to interfere. This should be a space where the queer community can feel safe and have their own voices heard.”
He earned points with me for that one. Almost as many as for the Golden Girls tee.
Jack Garcia is the co-founder and co-editor of peculiar. A Utah Valley University graduate with a BA in English – Creative Writing, he has had poetry and prose published in journals such as Touchstones, Essais, Orogeny, and Brown Bag Magazine. When not writing with the Rock Canyon Poets or working his boring day job as a jewelry store manager, Jack loves binge-watching The Golden Girls with his boyfriend and paying his student loans until he dies.