We had the good fortune of connecting with Miranda Garno Nesler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Miranda Garno, is there a quote or affirmation that’s meaningful to you?
“Without documents, no history. Without history, no memory. Without memory, no greatness.” These are the words of Mary Ritter Beard, an American suffragist and archivist. Because Beard worked in libraries, she understood the critical role physical documents play in shaping our view of the past as well as the present that emerges from it. If the documents of history don’t record the actions of diverse people, or if diverse people’s contributions are erased from that document, we wind up privileging the accomplishments of only a narrow slice of humanity. So she encouraged women fighting for equality to preserve their documents, to publish their own biographies, and to write themselves into history. Beard’s words inspire me. I’m conscious that every day at Whitmore Rare Books is a chance to fulfill the mission she laid out. As a rare book dealer, my job and my activism are connected in that sense: I preserve and distribute historical materials by women, BIPOC, and queer peoples. The survival of these documents is crucial to our learning from these communities’ experiences; recognizing their struggles and contributions; weaving a wider and more accurate story about the past; and guiding today’s activists away from the failings of the past and toward a more inclusive future.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Even though every step of my life has been driven by the desire to work with books (and book people), it wasn’t a smooth path. It was a series of successes, plateaus, risks, and struggles that led to my dream job. My passion for antiquarian books and manuscripts initially took me very early on to an obvious choice: academia. And for over a decade I was a professor of early literature and gender. But the better I got and the more I accomplished in that role, the further away I got from books and the unhappier I was as a person. It took serious consideration to admit this and to jump ship. But I did. I quit before tenure with no other job lined up. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t have everything mapped out, and I am the better for it. What came next was really the result of assessing how my professional skills and my personal needs aligned. I moved to California. I took a position working for a private collector building a library of women’s history, which pushed my scholarly rare book skills into contact with the rare book market; then I got a scholarship to the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, which introduced me to rare book dealers and their business practices; and through these new colleagues, I was introduced to Dan Whitmore, who invited me to take a position with his shop and carve out a whole new department that would diversify the company and welcome in new collectors to collaborate with us. None of it was easy, but it showed me how resilient and adaptive I am. And it taught me you should never stay on a path that makes you unhappy just because you committed to it or it used to fit who you are. Humans change, and our needs change. Being honest about this and being open to new possibilities can lead you to something amazing that you never even imagined.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
On a weekday, I’m a fan of staying local, which means Pasadena. It’s a wonderful town with a lot of independently owned businesses. Going to see the collection at the Norton Simon Museum or a matinee at the Laemmle, a theatre with an incredible offering of indie and foreign films, is an afternoon must. When you’re done, walking down the street for happy hour mezcal cocktails and incredible house-made guacamole and plantain chips at Maestro gives you a chance to talk about what you just saw. On a weekend, I like to get to escape to other areas of LA. We have an incredible array of museums — LACMA, the California African American Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Getty and the Getty Villa. Depending on whether I feel like an urban or a beachside experience, I enjoy mapping out an itinerary of one or two exhibits with the bonus of meeting a bigger group of friends at a great restaurant at the end. I’m a major fan of Zinque in Venice and Mercedes in Marina del Rey; Musso & Frank in Hollywood; and Broken Spanish downtown.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’ve been lucky over the past seven years to be a part of a dynamic and driven group of California creatives who bring passion to their projects, and who are generous and supportive to their friends. Among them are people like Chris Reisbeck (of The Agency), TJ Pitts (of The Sapphire Room Salon), Mark Johnson (of Mark Johnson Tribal Arts), Julie Dubrow (of pr firm DubroWorks), and John David O’Brien (of Art Center College of Design). Across a wide range of professions, they inspire me with their integrity, innovative thinking, and skill.
Sheena Lad at Photo Nutrients. WriteGirlLA.