Former Academic and Librarian Turned Texas Bookstore Owner
Howdy! Lauren "Lola" Watson, founder of Em Dash Books here. I have over 15 years of experience as a Bookseller, Librarian, English Professor, Writer, and Digital Marketer. Now I'm combining all that experience to start a new non-profit that will bring the love of reading to rural communities all over Texas.
In 2022, I left my job as an Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College to work as a Director of Product at an EdTech startup. I wanted to do something that would reach exponentially more students than those I could physically teach in a classroom each semester. For almost a year, I had a blast and learned a lot leading our team of 15 designers, students, and community managers. We did ground-breaking studies on how students learn and network online post-pandemic as well as how they deal with school stress and stay focused on their goals. I'm so proud of the work we did. Then the recession hit and in the fall I was part of a layoff alongside all those employees at Twitter and Meta. While working through a career coaching program to help me find a new position, I realized that maybe now was the time to take a leap of faith.
Books were my escape growing up neurodivergent in a small town. I struggled to focus at school or understand social norms around me. Rarely did a teacher get too mad at me if I was reading a book instead of disrupting class. When I had a book in my hands I could lose myself in far away worlds and study different societies or ideas in a safe space. But growing up an avid reader in a small town where the nearest bookstore was over an hour away was tough. My mom would drop me off at the local library while she picked up the mail one block over, and I blew through the library's collection quickly. I was lucky that my mom encouraged my reading. Other kids were less lucky. I grew up during the YA boom but those exciting and more fun reads rarely made their way to our neck of the woods.
When I went to college I was surprised to find that most of the literature that had been pivotal to me growing up wasn't considered very "literary". And I would spend the next 15 years writing and studying "pop culture" like comics, fantasy, tv/movies, and eventually get my Master's in children's literature. I believe when you have fun reading something your mind is open to new ideas. If I hadn't had books from authors like Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey growing up, I don't think I would have become the person I am today. They let me learn about things outside the bubble I grew up in. In the classroom I proved these ideas. That I could combine literature and pop culture to improve student outcomes. I had students turn from hating English to telling me my class was the bright spot of their day. I taught in mostly rural Title One schools that reminded me so much of my hometown. After 5 years of fighting for them, I wanted a way to expand my reach.
Which brings us to now! While trying to figure out how to spin my diverse background in education and tech for my LinkedIn page, I realized... maybe working for another startup isn't my next step. Like an em dash, I'm versatile and my oftentimes winding career path actually sets me up perfectly for this role! Em dashes can also be used to indicate an interruption. Maybe my life needed the time of reflection my lay off forced me into so I could bring things full circle for kids in Texas. Those like I was growing up, those like my students, and especially those like my kiddos.
Right now we're just getting started, but our dream is to open a stand-alone brick and mortar location in Buda that will continue to support outreach all over Texas. In the meantime, we're starting scrappy with this website, a bookmobile that will travel to schools, markets, and festivals in our area, and a monthly subscription box service! If you want to help, right now we're accepting donations of gently used books to help build our initial inventory.