Literary City Spotlight: 6 Stand-Out Sites in Milwaukee

As the fifth-largest city in the Midwest, Milwaukee has a lot to offer. The city is known for its expansive art scene, stunning lake views, and—of course—its designation as one of the beer capitals of the world. While visitors will love enjoying the city’s more than 40 breweries, they’ll also be able to take in an intoxicating literary history and relevance. Be sure to mark these six spots on your readerly road map.


1. Woodland Pattern Book Center


Though Woodland Pattern Book Center sells books, it’s more than just a bookstore. The organization hosts a wide variety of multi-arts programming, including talks and workshops on film, music, fiction, and poetry. Recently, poetry events have focused on indigenous poetry, the intersection of poetry and social justice, and Latinx poetry. Additionally, Woodland Pattern hosts a seasonal Poetry in the Park reading series, an annual youth poetry camp to inspire young writers, and a yearly “poetry marathon” tradition (last year, the beloved poetry reading spanned 24 hours). The center celebrates the undeniable connection between literature and other art forms, with rotating visual art exhibitions sure to inspire your ekphrastic poetry.


2. Boswell Book Company


Perhaps the best-known bookstore in the city, Boswell Book Company has been delighting both Milwaukee residents and visitors since 2009. The treasured indie bookstore, located on Milwaukee’s east side, boasts a classic, brick exterior and a staff of knowledgeable booksellers ready to deliver the best recommendations. Boswell also supports a thriving literary community, hosting five regular book clubs and inviting best-selling authors for readings. 


3. Var Gallery


Of course, art lovers flock to Var Gallery for its bold, thought-provoking exhibitions by both emerging and established artists. But in addition to visual art, the trendy space has a history of amplifying other art forms, including comedy, music, and poetry. The gallery puts on a regular reading series called Short Shots, as well as many spoken word slams.


4. Niche Book Bar


“Black books, red wine” is a motto for this Black-owned bookstore, which sells wine and work by authors in all genres. Whether you’re looking for poetry, children’s and YA books, or memoir, you’ll find it from some of today’s most revered and riveting Black voices. Niche Book Bar owners also created the Black Authors Collective, which provides an opportunity for local Black writers to collaborate and promote their work. The business aims to unite and educate the community, with events like an upcoming Juneteenth author chat. While Niche Book Bar is still shopping for a permanent location as of June 2021, they offer delivery and plenty of local pop-up events. 


5. The Heights Dream Library Mural


Look no further for the backdrop of your next bookstagram post. Located in the Washington Heights neighborhood, on the east-facing wall of 5700 W. Vliet St., this colorful mural vibrantly depicts an overflowing and eclectic library. Fun fact: The public art project took title suggestions from local residents. 


6. Outwords Books


Founded in 1994, this bookstore and espresso bar specializes in LGBTQ+ titles. Queer poetry, history, and romance line the shelves, giving readers an opportunity to celebrate pride any day of the year. The store also stocks LGBT-friendly gifts and greeting cards. Outwords Books also bolsters community, with open-minded monthly reading groups for people of any orientation or identity.


Wanting to embark on the ultimate literary road trip? Check out our literary spotlights on Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City.