Crested Butte writer, bookstore owner on the cliches of writing in the West and 5 books that break that mold

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Ryan Warner/CPR News
Arvin Ramgoolam at his bookstore, Townie Books, in Crested Butte.

Nestled into a building on Elk Avenue, visitors to Crested Butte can find Townie Books and Rumors Coffee and Tea House owned by Arvin Ramgoolam and his wife, Danica. 

Townie is not just a bookstore, but the fulcrum of the local literary community. Ramgoolam hosts authors and book events as well as just locals looking for a place to settle in. 

“We used to joke: Come for the bathroom, stay for the books. Or: Come to the bookstore, it’s warmer than your house”  Ramgoolan said. “It continually surprises me. We’ve been around long enough now that we have families that say, whenever we come to town, this is the first place that our kids ask if we’re coming to.”

Ryan Warner
Townie Books in Crested Butte.

Ramgoolam has owned Townies for more than a decade now. He was born in Trinidad and Tobago, grew up in Miami and followed some friends to the mountains of Colorado. He’s also an author and he’s building on his work of short stories with a novel that’s currently in progress: A New West. 

There’s a theme to Ramgoolam’s writing that also appears in how Townie Bookstore curates its books: that the American West is not a monolith of white, masculine stories. He says one of the questions that best encapsulates that most tired of tropes is about place and origin. 

“It really comes down to the core question that I’ve always sort of dealt with of ‘where are you from?’ I think all immigrants deal with that question at the forefront of their identity,” Ramgoolam said. “Well, I’ve been here for quite awhile. I have a family, I have a business, I have a community. I’m from here.” 

Colorado Matters asked Ramgoolam for some book recommendations that have informed his own work and might give readers a new perspective on the space around them: 

"Acid West: Essays" (2018) by Joshua Wheeler

“Since working on my book, this has been a guidepost to the peculiarities of Southern New Mexico.”

"American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God & Public Lands in the West" (2020) by Betsy Gaines Quammen

“Absolutely critical to the development of my antagonist into a fully realized character.”

"How Much of These Hills is Gold" (2020) by C Pam Zhang

“A fascinating novel that recasts the west in light of the immigrant family narrative and the erasure of the labor and presence of Asian Americans in the west.”

"An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States" (2021) by Kyle T. Mays

“Wildly fascinating look at US history from the perspective of people who have ancestry in both enslaved and indigenous people and the exclusion of these people within these groups.”

"Brave the Wild River" (2023) by Melissa L. Sevigny

“New on my shelf and so far a wondrous look at the Colorado River and Grand Canyon from a botanist's perspective. What compels me towards this text is the absolute understanding that even in 1938, this landscape was under threat and should be treated with a level of understanding of its complexity and fragility.”