Literary canons have always operated as a function of power – those who are societally powerful have the ability to choose which works are important or of high quality, and those choices typically work to perpetuate their own power. Because of this, works by and about marginalized groups like LGBT writers and writers of color have historically been excluded from this vision of importance. As time has progressed, LGBT writers and writers of color have accumulated the power to form their own canon; in many cases, members of these communities have founded entire bookstores to create a space where writers can learn from each other and have their stories heard.
Bookstores focusing on queer literature are an incredibly important part of queer communities. In many ways, queer bookstores serve as a community meeting point, as well as a space for those in the LGBT community to educate themselves about queer history, as queer history is rarely covered in formal schooling. Having an entire bookstore devoted to LGBT works also allows proprietors to diversify within the LGBT community – for instance, an LGBT bookstore will focus more works by queer writers of color
LGBT bookstores also serve as a way to legitimize the queer experience. By specifically focusing on queer authors and writings, LGBT bookstores elevate the queer experience by creating a new canon. As literary canons display a function of power, queer bookstores subvert the power dynamics of canon by disregarding the traditional canon and creating a canon filled with entirely queer works.
The three following bookstores, based in London, Liverpool, and Manchester, respectively, contribute to the queer communities in these cities by providing a space for queer community and education.
Gay’s the Word
Gay’s the Word, founded in January 17, 1979 by the Gay Icebreakers members, is the only specifically lesbian and gay bookstore in the UK, located in London. Its emergence was inspired by the growth of LGBT bookstores in the United States. Though there was initial reluctance to grant a lease to the bookstore from the Camden Council, this was overcome by help from a then-councillor Ken Livingstone, who later became the Mayor of London.
The shop was founded when LGBT+ books were not readily available in mainstream bookstores. In fact, its early newsletters listed the few “radical” bookstores where LGBT+ books were available. The bookstore serves as a place of community and as an informational resource center for lesbians and gay men, very much where individuals could sit in community and learn about events and organizations relevant to them. Various community groups also use the shop after hours for meetings and events, including the previously mentioned Icebreakers, the Lesbian Discussion Group, Gay Black Group and the Gay Disabled Group. The bookstore also serves as the venue for monthly TransLondon meetings.
Gay’s the Word has hosted many readings and signings by both well-known and emerging writers, such as Edmund White, William Corlett, Armistead Maupin, amongst others. It has also hosted talks by biographers, historians and many other LGBT+ academics. It also supplies libraries, youth groups and academic institutions with materials, and it can easily and economically send books, dvds and magazines anywhere through a mail order service.
Their address is as follows: Gay’s The Word, 66 Marchmont St, London WC1N 1AB
A documentary on the bookstore was shown at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in 2006 and can be viewed on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cItd4S0L4ug).
Their website is available for perusal here: http://www.gaystheword.co.uk/
News From Nowhere
News From Nowhere, a non-profit radical bookshop located in Liverpool, is the city’s center for cultural subversive activity. The name of the bookstore is a reference to William Morris’ soft science fiction socialist utopia novel of the same name. News From Nowhere has sections dedicated to literature both on issues of race and sexuality. The mission of News From Nowhere is to provide resources for advocates of anti-oppression of all groups. The bookstore is committed to pushing for social change and has been a local epicenter for LGBTQ+ literature and social justice campaigns for over forty years. As Liverpool’s longest-running bookstore founded in 1974, News From Nowhere has moved four times due to attacks, but remains persistent in pushing its message nonetheless. The paid workers all earn minimum wage, and collectively own and maintain the bookshop. They share all responsibilities and make decisions together as equals.
News From Nowhere attracts and welcomes visitors from around the UK and the entire world. It has occupied its current residence at 96 Bold Street since 1996. Though the bulk of News From Nowhere’s stock is in print, it has adapted to the digital age. It offers a variety of e-books, but understands how the increasingly unique experience of having a discussion with an informed bookkeeper can help pinpoint the perfect book better than any digitized suggestion can. The people of Liverpool are extremely proud of this bookshop, and in fact raise money through donations to ensure its continuing success. The bookshop is a shrine for LGBTQ+ issues and celebration of the platform it is able to them. Many queer people use the bookshop as a support system during their first steps of “coming out”. It is an incredible resource for gay communities in Liverpool and across England. On their website, News From Nowhere states that they “refuse to stock anything that is oppressive – racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise.” It is truly a sanctuary for all oppressed people.
Their address is as follows: 96 Bold St, Liverpool L1 4HY, UK
Their website is: http://www.newsfromnowhere.org.uk/index.php
This is a newly opened book store that is located in Manchester which is exciting because it specializes in “politics, history, LGBT, art, & fiction, and is located right there in the entrance to a movie multiplex”. There has been a lot of demand for this type of bookstore and for more bookstores in general in this location so a lot of locals are very happy about this new addition to the community.
There are a lot of interesting aspects within the store and little details that are hidden throughout. For example, there is a little nook in one of the corners of the book store that has a table and chairs and the owners have the hope of writers being able to come to this bookstore to write and brainstorm different ideas and be able to put down roots at the store. Also located inside is a mini cafe where customers can go to sit and some snacks while browsing through the many different books that are available. This bookstore is considered an independent bookstore and is trying to break away from the norms of a more commercial like bookstore and be able to carry certain books that you would not be able to purchase anywhere else.
Their address is as follows: Kiosk 1, Great Northern Warehouse, 235 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4EN, United Kingdom
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