Karl Pohrt: A Farewell

Long-time owner of Shaman Drum Bookshop helped shape us

Karl Pohrt, founder of Shaman Drum Bookshop, died two days ago on July 10, 2013 after being diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer in October 2012.

Karl Pohrt

Karl Pohrt in front of his Shaman Drum Bookshop in 2009.

Karl was most widely known for his work as an independent bookseller, both locally and at the national level. He also had a deep belief in the importance of civic life, and served for several years on the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board, among other local entities.

Karl was also supportive of other local entrepreneurs. Shaman Drum Bookshop was one of the very first advertisers on Teeter Talk and also The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

He was generous in sharing his reflections with Chronicle readers both before and after closing his bookstore in 2009, as well as on his blog, There Is No Gap.

From his May 8, 2006 Teeter Talk interview: “So I feel, if it has to do with a devolving of a political conversation into a sloganeering and trashing of people … given the amount of time I have left on the planet Earth, I’m not sure that it’s worth my effort. And it’s also counterproductive, or I suspect that it’s counterproductive on some deep and profound level. However, maybe that’s what a democracy is: this sort of jostling and continual debate and back and forth with people with conflicting interests. So I have not thought this through. But I also feel that my energy would be better used in other areas.”

Karl, thank you for the ride.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, July 14 at 2 p.m. at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, 3257 Lohr Road in Ann Arbor. Donations can be made to the church or to the Children’s Literacy Network.


  1. By Domenica Trevor
    July 13, 2013 at 7:29 am | permalink

    Thanks for this, Dave. And thank you, Karl, above all, for Shaman Drum. We loved it so.

  2. By Sally Mitani
    July 13, 2013 at 2:32 pm | permalink

    In 1981, Dan Morris and I started The Alternative Review of Literature and Politics. Karl had just started Shaman Drum. We had no clue what we were doing, but Karl bought a large ad, and continued to advertise and have receptions for us until we closed, um, about 5 months later. It was a good ride! Thank you Karl.

  3. July 15, 2013 at 11:54 am | permalink

    Thank you, Dave, and Ann Arbor Chronicle!
    Karl was a wise and generous friend to so many people, certainly me included. Over the decades, I shared occasional coffees or conversations at Shaman Drum. He loved the voices that come to us through books and understood that sharing such wisdom across centuries and continents was a vital part of encouraging healthy communities. The list of his many kindnesses on behalf of colleagues would fill pages.
    So sad to hear we’ve lost him. Thanks for posting this column and tribute.

  4. By Rod Johnson
    July 15, 2013 at 9:39 pm | permalink

    When Karl first opened the store, I came by. I had been a regular customer of Paideia, its predecessor, whose owner was a somewhat difficult person. So I came in to meet this new guy and we became friends. I was somewhat at loose ends, thinking about dropping out of grad school, and Karl offered me a job. I was employee number 2 (Anna Hammond was #1). I worked there for a couple years, but left before the big expansion and move downstairs. It came at the right time in my life–I got to have long interesting conversations with patrons, read a lot of great stuff, and generally started to feel like I belonged in the academic community. I’ve always loved Karl for seeing I needed that job and extending his hand.

    I saw him only sporadically the last few years since the store closed and didn’t know he was sick. So his death has been a real shock. But it’s been good hearing all the tributes, nationally as well as locally. Shaman Drum was a thing the likes of which we’re never going to see again, and we were lucky to have it in our town.

  5. By anna ercoli schnitzer
    July 16, 2013 at 4:08 am | permalink

    I did not personally know Karl, only admired him from afar, but to me The Shaman Drum was the epitome of what a bookstore should and could be. It was beautiful both in style and content. I remember reading James Hynes”s “Publish and Perish; Three Tales of Tenure and Terror,” a wicked, 3-novella academic satire in which that store was so beautifully described.

  6. By Susan Lackey
    July 18, 2013 at 8:31 am | permalink

    Karl changed the way I looked at independent businesses when he told me, during the heyday of the original dot.com boom, that he saw ensuring the success of those small, local companies here and elsewhere as the social movement of this era. And then, he went looking for ways for Shaman Drum and others to blend their unique position in the community with the new opportunities provided by the Internet.

    That ability to embrace change as a way of maintaining the things that were important about his community marked Karl as the kind of quietly visionary leader we need far more of. He will be missed.

  7. July 18, 2013 at 12:20 pm | permalink

    Dave, thank you for this beautiful write up about Karl. I never had the chance to meet him, but his presence changed the lives of many of my friends who worked for him, and I fondly remember shopping in his store. He and Shaman will be missed deeply.