In recent years, Manhattan has lost the last of its LGBT bookstores. Now The Bureau of General Services - Queer Division is looking to bring a queer independent bookstore and event space to Manhattan. I asked co-founder Greg Newton about their plans.
What is your mission in bringing a queer bookshop and event space to NYC? Why now?
The idea for the project began last fall when my partner Donnie Jochum and I were walking near the former location of A Different Light, and we asked ourselves: "When did A Different Light close? And when did Oscar Wilde close?" Then it dawned on us that there were no gay bookstores left in Manhattan. "We should do it!" That was our initial response. But we wanted it to be a queer bookstore, not a gay bookstore.
Of course, there is Bluestockings, the activist bookstore on Allen St., which has a lot of queer titles and events. Bluestockings is a wonderful resource, and we hope to collaborate with them. I volunteered there over the summer, and they've been very supportive. And we learned about Bent Pages, an LGBT bookstore on Staten Island that sells used and out-of-print titles. But we feel that Manhattan needs and can surely sustain a bookstore and event space specifically dedicated to serving queer people and our allies.
Indie bookstores are opening in Brooklyn and Queens, but they're shuttering all over Manhattan. How do you plan to make it work in the borough that is increasingly indifferent to books and small businesses?
We thought a lot about opening in Brooklyn. I've lived in Brooklyn for 18 years, and I'm excited to see so many bookstores opening up here. But ours is not a general bookstore, so it needs to be centrally located. As much as I love Brooklyn, I know that there are still many Manhattanites who are reluctant to cross the river, whereas the reverse is generally not the case. And while more tourists are venturing out to Brooklyn, Manhattan is still where most tourists spend their time.
While many new bookstores have emerged in Brooklyn and many have closed in Manhattan, there have been a few new bookstores in Manhattan. Mast Books, on Avenue A, opened in 2010. La Casa Azul opened in East Harlem recently. And then there's Word Up in Washington Heights. Veronica Liu's intention was to open Word Up as a one-week project, but it celebrated its one-year anniversary this past June. We find this all very inspiring.
We know that we're taking on a challenging task. But we're seeing that so many people want this to happen; so many people have told us, "New York needs this." Our goal is to have lots of events to keep people coming in and to invite people to use the space in creative ways. Part of the reason we chose to call ourselves the Bureau of General Services–Queer Division was to signal our desire to serve people, to provide services. And the primary service we will provide is a space for queers and allies to socialize, debate, organize, and perform. We will also exhibit and sell art and artists' books, and when we find a permanent home we will have a small cafe. We chose to leave the word "bookstore" out of our name because we want people to think of the Bureau as a place where things happen, a place that also sells books, art, and publications.
I heard a rumor you're looking in the East Village. How's the search going?
Right now, we're looking for a space for a pop-up shop that we'll open for the holiday season. We have some exciting leads on the Lower East Side--we hope to make an announcement very soon. Our goal is to open in a permanent location in early spring.
How did you decide on the word "queer," which can be a tricky one, especially for older generations or more conservative gay and lesbian folks?
From the start, we wanted it to be a queer bookstore, not a gay bookstore. We are excited by the current proliferation of the term "queer." "Queer" is an expansive term, one that continues to grow. It is inclusive. It is not narrowly defined. And it reclaims a pejorative term, one that was used to deride those who did not conform to gender and sexual norms.
"Queer" includes bisexual, transgender, and intersex people. "Queer" includes anyone who does not conform to dominant gender and sexual norms. "Queer" is an open and expanding term. It just won't sit still and behave itself. How can you not love it?
What kinds of events do you hope to have in the space?
We want to have readings; musical, theatrical, and dance performances; film screenings; art exhibitions; interviews and discussions; reading groups; debates; workshops/classes; and lectures. We very much hope that people will approach us with proposals, and we hope to engage a wide variety of populations.
Tell us about the upcoming fundraiser. What can people expect at the event?
The fundraiser is happening Friday, October 12, 2012, from 7 to 9 pm at ClampArt, 521-531 West 25th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues, Ground Floor. There is a suggested donation of $20 and there will be beer and wine--and tote bags.
We're very excited to have donations from a diverse group of authors and artists, and one institution. We'll soon have images of some of the donated works on our website. They include signed out-of-print and first edition books, collages, paintings, drawings, prints, and an artist's book. And Sarah Schulman is donating a tarot card reading! We will also sell books and zines and BGSQD merchandise. From 7 to 8:30 people can view the works and place bids. We're very excited that the poet Pamela Sneed will do a reading. We saw her perform in June at Housing Works, and she rocks!
Check out the site for the present list of participants.
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