The Keeper of the Printed Word: Maia Asshaq

Owner, Ditto Ditto bookshop

Jun 10, 2015 at 1:00 am
The Keeper of the Printed Word: Maia Asshaq
Photo by Jacob Lewkow

If we told you Ditto Ditto is a small, cozy bookshop, you might still not be prepared for just how small and cozy it is. Run by the always-stylish, 28-year-old proprietor Maia Asshaq, the space is located in a former one-bedroom apartment located next to Hello Records, which has been there for seven years. The small-press-focused Ditto Ditto is thriving after just one year in its street-level space. In the summer, readings happen as often as twice a week, taking advantage of an outdoor patio.

Not knowing who's going to walk in next is one of the joys of having the space.

"I've been introduced to a lot of folks in Detroit that published or still publish art and poetry books," Asshaq says. She met a local book and record buyer and seller named Craig who travels around Detroit on his bike going to estate sales and thrift shops, where he buys books and records to sell. "That's extra cool because I'm not really experienced buying books from people. I try to be fair and realistic at the same time; working with him has been a great learning experience," Asshaq says.

Asshaq, who was born in Baghdad and grew up in Warren, says the space is ideal. "Before this, I had a temporary bookshop in Trinosophes, which basically consisted of a big table and a couple of little shelves," she says. "When I first saw this space, it seemed great. I didn't have many books, and I had no money, and it being so small made it more attainable, plus having reasonable rent and a good landlord allowed for some time to build inventory."

Previously a caretaker of museum shops for MOCAD and the Arab American National Museum, Asshaq agrees that the term "curated" has been grossly overused when it comes to book and record shops, or anyplace that's not a museum or gallery. That said, partly because of the unique space, Asshaq's personality is imprinted everywhere. You'll find a charming mixture of contemporary, small-run artist books and periodicals, a smattering of used literature, and classic political and literary works from publishers like Autonomedia.

Ditto Ditto was originally a small publisher itself, founded with designer Andrea Farhat.

"My focus has always been on independently published books," Asshaq says. "Independent publishers usually have more freedom to experiment with the content and the artists and writers they work with. From cover art, to the paper the books are printed on, there seems to be more thought in the design. Having both new and used books also gives me the ability to pair these sometimes lesser-known publications alongside recognizable classics and to make them more accessible that way."

Asshaq is currently focused on the Detroit Art Book Fair, which she organizes with Megan Major. This is the fair's third year, and they have a long list of vendors and independent art book publishers from all over North America signed up.