By Kenna Connelly
Independent bookstores offer the opportunity for readers to receive an experience that is not offered at large book-selling chains like Barnes and Noble or Amazon, which tend to highlight the already popular reading selection. When referring to business, “independent” refers to a bookstore that operates within the scope of one or two stores and is usually exclusive to one locality. Many of these bookstores sell literature and zines from local authors and artists, and provide an exceptionally inclusive space for all voices to tell their stories.
An example of inclusive bookstores are Quimby’s, and Women and Children First, both located in Chicago, Illinois. Quimby’s specializes in alternative comics, graphic novels, obscure small-press books and, “...in particular, photocopied, self-published zines”. Women & Children First is known for its’ diverse and queer-friendly selection of literature, and is women-owned and operated.
Within these spaces, one can see just by the covers of these books that this is no ordinary bookstore. Looking at the shelves, there are professionally published indie books, hand-bound artist books, and stapled-together zines that all tell and illustrate stories with both vulnerability and freedom. In addition to the difference in the tactile quality of these books, the stories they share are also different. There is a deep honesty about experiences- mundane and intense alike.
A peek into Women & Children First Bookstore:
A peek into Quimby's Bookstore:
Women and Children First describes themselves as a feminist bookstore, stating that they “believe in the liberation of people of all genders” and “choose to actively showcase and uplift literary work that is written by people who find themselves living most precariously under patriarchy”. They further explain that they carry books written by men, women, and people who are neither, and choose to celebrate these people. They believe that content is just as key to identity, and curate towards a feminist ideology keeping in mind things like the ways in which authors conduct themselves around trans people, non-binary people and women. They actively choose to lift up and tell the stories from all walks of life, making for an incredibly inclusive bookstore.
Within Quimby’s bookstore, a patch-work approach in the form of artist books and zines has been taken, but an inclusive store for all voices has been created, nonetheless. Stories like “Butch nor Femme”, a zine about the complicated feelings that come with being queer and not fitting quite into either box; "First Aide to Face Adversity”, a book written by Kuwa Jasiri, explaining safety precautions one should take when preparing to participate in a protest; "SPEAK", Lawrence Burney's collection of reflections that provide an unfiltered voice to the underrepresented musicians of color from Baltimore, come right to the forefront. There are hundreds of stapled-together zines, comics and handmade artists books for one to dig through. They cover incredibly specific and vulnerable topics to the author, allowing the reader to peek into, and even feel their personal experiences and lives.
Inclusivity within independent bookstores is important because it opens up a safe community for marginalized voices to be heard. The diversity of authors and stories within these bookstores allows for a plethora of experiences to be shared. These bookstores in particular support local artists and authors, placing an additional benefit of partaking in the community. In addition to this, many speaking events take place, where an author can personally tell their story, and others can be a part of the vulnerability of sharing of these stories. Because readers have the ability to peek into the lives of communities they may not have interacted with on their own before, it gives an opportunity for connection and empathy. For the reader to recognize privileges, as well as one's own heartache or triumphs, it makes space for both parties to feel seen and understood, all while lifting one and other up. Because of all of these things, a safe community for marginalized voices is created and sustained.