bluestockings featured
Bluestockings Bookstore located in Manhattan, NYC.

Bookspot of the Week: Bluestockings Bookstore

Welcome back to Bookspot of the Week! For today’s article, we had the pleasure of speaking with Abygai (the Newsletter Editor & a Collective Member), Isla (the Lead Book Buyer & a Collective Member), and Madeleine (the membership manager and founder of the membership team at Bluestockings in 2019), from Bluestockings in Manhattan, NYC. This feminist, radical bookstore also doubles as an activist center (and triples as a cafe). Their goal as a bookstore is to provide “radical texts” you might have difficulty finding elsewhere, and to create a safe environment for their customers, especially POC, the LGBTQ+ community, and sex workers. Next time you find yourself in NYC, be sure to check them out! 

bookspot of the week

via Bluestockings bookstore

How did your bookstore transition from concept to reality?

Abygai: This is an interesting question. My involvement with Bluestockings started in January of 2019 and even since then a lot has changed. About 21 years ago, Bluestockings was founded as a values-based feminist bookstore. After it closed briefly and then reopened in 2001, we had the first iteration of what Bluestockings looks like today which is collectively owned and volunteer powered.   

What do you feel is unique to your bookstore?

Isla: From a book buying perspective, as an activist bookstore Bluestockings offers an unusually high volume of radical, political texts compared to other stores. The terms “radical texts” can sound vague, but if radical means “from the root,” what we’re going for is books that speak to real life, especially for people at the margins of society, rather than speaking to dominant ideas and institutions. 

 

If you had infinite space, what might you add to the store?

Isla: We would love to have more storage space for overstock, as well as an office space that’s separate from the retail area.

Abygai: More space would better serve our events which, pre-COVID, occurred every single night with no cost to the hosts or attendees. More space would allow us to create better zones for events while other aspects of the space would go uninterrupted like our various book clubs, cafe areas, and general book browsing areas (which for right now must transform to make space for our programming). 

via Bluestockings bookstore

How do you feel your bookstore fits into your local community?

Abygai: This answer might be similar to others but, Bluestockings is community based and created by the POC, queer, radical community that inhabits it. More so than us, creating a community for other people to join the community has been created by loyal patrons, event attendees and hosts, and shared ideas and resources. 

What does your store offer that a chain or online retailer can’t?

Isla: Because so much of our community is made up of organizers, trans people, and sex workers, we offer a perspective that’s based more in a grassroots consciousness than in the mainstream publishing and bookselling market. 

 

Abygai: I have long since described my work with Bluestockings by saying that “Bluestockings is basically an activist center disguised as a bookstore” although our radical texts and selections do provide some information that is harder to find or access. Bluestockings takes the values in our book selections a step further by creating a space where our business is supported by the community, and therefore seeks to serve it first and foremost.

bookspot of the week

via Bluestockings bookstore

Do you hand-pick your staff to create a specific environment?

Abygai: Bluestockings Bookstore has been volunteer powered for the past 21 years. The staff environment is shaped by people who want to be there and that sets a tone for how Bluestockings has evolved and sustained for the past 21 years.  

How else do you create a welcoming environment?

Abygai: There is a lot of thought and care when it comes to how we want people to feel when they interact with the space. I would say our safer space policy guides how we handle any conflicts in Bluestockings and we try to embody de-escalation whenever possible. Other factors that contribute to our environment is the resources we provide alongside our event programming (which is now virtual and more accessible) and book selection. We have worked hard to maintain resources like narcan, safer sniffing kits (fentanyl test strips), and a needle drop in our public bathroom. I think when you ask about creating a welcoming environment Bluestockings has taken that consideration into asking who we are trying to welcome and that has always been and always will be marginalized folx.      

bookspot

via Bluestockings bookstore

What about your store do you think appeals to your neighborhood?

Residing in the Lower East Side of Manhattan impacts a lot of the decisions we make when providing resources and generally making it free to be in Bluestockings. Try finding a public restroom or a place to sit without paying the price in Manhattan. Bluestockings would be your best bet. Additionally, we prioritize carrying free resources like tampons, pads, condoms, narcan, and fentanyl testing strips for anyone that walks through our doors. The LES, which borders Chinatown and the East Village, has historically been a place for activists, immigrants and queers. I think a lot of people come into the bookstore and see themselves reflected on our shelves, and we work hard to keep the revolutionary spirit of the neighborhood alive. The LES, which borders Chinatown and the East Village, has historically been a place for activists, immigrants, and queers. I think a lot of people come into the bookstore and see themselves reflected on our shelves, and we work hard to keep the revolutionary spirit of the neighborhood alive. 

 

 Do you have any staff picks or releases we should watch out for?

Isla: Beyond Survival by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Prison by Any Other Name by Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law, Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur, Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, An Ingigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz 

bookspot

via Bluestockings bookstore

Do you tailor your inventory according to your community?

Isla: Yes, definitely. We are also always trying to expand the bookstore’s consciousness, if you will. No matter how good and inclusive our core values are, there will always be issues and perspectives to keep learning about. 

Is there anything else that you’d like our audience to know?

Madeleine: Bluestockings is fueled by a grassroots base of members — folks we hold relationships with who commit to supporting the store monthly. We launched our membership program last year, and have since acquired nearly 500 monthly supporters, with the most common sustaining gift of $5. As a radical bookstore that believes that the redistribution of wealth to community care is a fundamentally political act, we’re proud to be funded by and for our community of weirdos, queers, sex workers, organizers, and artists. Community creates abundance, and membership has been integral in resourcing Bluestockings to navigate unprecedented challenges and be imaginative about our future. Membership starts at $5 and includes perks at all tiers including a monthly book hand-picked by the collective — you can find out more here

 

Like other bookstores, Bluestockings has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve had our doors closed to the general public since early March, and given our location in New York’s Lower East Side with staggering overhead costs, we’ve struggled to stay afloat. We’d initially planned to do a COVID-relief fundraiser in June, but in the wake of the uprisings in collective grief for Black liberation, pivoted to move funds not just to secure the future of our space, but also to advance survivor-informed, abolitionist feminist organizing. 

bookspot

via Bluestockings bookstore

We’ve been in relationship with Survived and Punished New York for the past couple years, and decided to deepen that relationship by making our major fundraiser a collaboration with them. On Tuesday, June 30, we hosted our 21st birthday fundraiser, Another World is Possible, to honor the radical legacies of Pride month as an uprising against state-sanctioned violence led by Black and brown trans women, gender nonconforming folks, and sex workers. We were so proud to be joined by headliners Janet Mock and Roxane Gay, and also heard from many other store bestsellers and performers Carmen Maria Machado, Molly Crabapple, Jenny Zhang, Yaa Gyasi, Tommy Pico, Gabby Rivera, and Jes Tom. We hosted the readers on a zoom call with live ASL and captioning, which completely sold out with 1,000 ticket buyers.

You can keep up with Bluestockings and their (now virtual) events on their Instagram @bluestockingsnyc. Do you know of a book shop worthy of a spotlight on our site? Contact us through any of our socials and you may just find it here next week!

Featured image via bluestockings bookstore