“I’ve always been a big reader,” says Devers, who, when we met on a drizzly day in February, was wearing metallic brogues studded with rhinestones and black trousers with yellow tigers at the knee. Her degree was in English literature and archaeology, and for a brief stint after graduating she worked as an archaeologist, sleeping in a tent and spending her days conducting surveys and digs. She may have ditched the roll mat but she’s still preserving pieces of the past, only now the legacies of women writers and their contributions to literary history.
Devers was introduced to the rare book world through the Fine Books Magazine, a glossy quarterly to which she contributed in the US, and her friend Heather O’Donnell, who runs Honey & Wax Booksellers in Brooklyn. It was a visit to a rare book fair in New York in 2015, however, that truly inspired her to take action. She pulled from the shelf a first edition by Joan Didion: it was priced at $25. Beside it was a first edition by Cormac McCarthy, priced at $600. Both living greats, both exceptional in their own way. So why the gap? “I suddenly became aware of a huge gender imbalance in the room,” she says. “Most of these books had not only been written by men but were being bought by men. Then, for the first time, I understood that the rare book trade contributes to the canonisation of writers: it drives the market and feeds what ends up in libraries, universities and archives.”