Last week, I had the great pleasure of reading my poetry at an AIPF (Austin International Poetry Festival) event hosted by Book Woman. It’s been years since I was in a dedicated woman’s book store. It felt like coming home. I can’t begin to tell you how very much bookstores like this have meant to me.
Years ago I bought my first feminist book at the first Alaska State Women’s Conference. The books were there under the auspices of a women’s bookstore whose name I sadly no longer remember. “When God Was A Woman” by Merlin Stone changed my life – reading it I literally felt centuries of sin roll off my back. A great burden lifted. I could stand up straight. I could breathe. For the first time in my life I began to seek out friendships with women, to read about the history of my gender, to discover “the personal is the political”.
When I was growing up there were few contemporary women authors. With few exceptions mainstream publishers simply didn’t buy their manuscripts. As the Women’s Movement expanded, women began opening their own small presses. Under the guise of Science Fiction they began inventing exciting and fascinating alternative worlds and cultures; their fresh voices and ideas perked up flagging “worlds at war” sagas and brought new life to the genre. SF houses began publishing women like Ursula K Le Guin, Kate Wilhelm, James Tiptree Jr. (notice the male pseudonym), Joanna Russ, and Sheri Tepper. Women’s Studies began making a nascent appearance in universities and female professors began researching women and women’s issues. University presses published them. Eventually, even the big guys jumped on the new feminist bandwagon. Pretty soon there were enough books by women to fill a store.
Those stores became our beacons, each one a haven of solace, help, and companionship.
When I was thirty-three I moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with my American husband and children – no bookstores, no friends, no work. My husband worked for the local airline as a pilot. On our first trip together out of the country he took me to London. There I discovered the Silver Moon an amazing women’s bookstore on Charing Cross Road just a few doors down from the famed “84”. From then on, every time John flew into London he came back with a stack of books recommended by the owner, CD’s by Holly Near, Meg Christiansen and Chris Willamson, and a heap of my favorite magazines to keep me au courant. The Silver Moon was my lifeline- spiritually, politically and psychologically.
Since returning to the States, I haven’t spent much time in cities. The small town I lived in for many years had several independent bookstores owned by women who stocked many books by and about women. I knew independent bookstores of all sorts were in trouble and mourned the closing of Gaia’s in Berkeley and Lioness Books in Sacramento, but imagine my shock to discover the entire United States can now claim only eleven independent women’s bookstores. There used to be on at least in every major city.
Their passing will be a great loss for we have no other such resource centers to replace them. It’s not that the information will be lost. It won’t be nearly as accessible. I’m not talking about women like myself who already know whose name or what subject to Google. I’m talking about women who don’t have a clue that the reason’s they feel lost, lonely, frustrated or afraid may have to do with being born female. Women are still at risk for so many things in this country. Often they end up thinking there’s something inherently wrong with being born woman. Worse yet, a woman may take it personally and think she is to blame. Women’s bookstores send the opposite message.
When I walk into a woman’s bookstore I feel nourished, supported and understood. I feel seen. I feel valuable. I feel important and worthwhile. These havens provide an antidote to the negative message this culture continues to direct toward us. They are oases of peace, sanctuaries and refuges, offering respite to all, far cheaper and more satisfying than any beauty parlor, spa, or club. They provide venues for poets, authors, musicians, and artists. They nurture and support our young. Even for women who don’t read, cards and music, t-shirts, and images make it clear – this is a place where being female is honored and celebrated. There’s no place else like it; no place like home.
P.S. I hope you’ll take the time to follow the links – particularly the singers…