10 woman-owned bookstores to support for Women's History Month
Sink into another world or learn something new with a book from these women-headed businesses
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Happy Women’s History Month! This month we’re celebrating the myriad contributions women have made to our culture, education, and communities. For me, there’s no better example of all those things than in the book world. So often, bookstores aren’t just bookstores—they’re also galleries, cafes, and meeting spaces for the whole neighborhood.
Like so many other industries, publishing is deeply affected by racial and gender imbalances. White men still make up a vast majority of the published authors in the world, and unless diverse stories are prioritized by readers and booksellers alike, it can be easy to feel like we’re living in a very homogenous literary world. That’s not the case, of course—and the real range of diverse human stories is never more apparent than when you walk into a bookstore with a strong commitment toward equity. Here are a few fantastic women-owned bookstores that are doing the work, and that you can support right now.
Papercuts is my own beloved Boston neighborhood bookstore. Founded in 2014, the store moved into a larger location in the last year and has been admirably organized when it comes to managing customers during the pandemic. It’s a beautifully curated space, with sweet gifts and staff recommendations that I trust implicitly.
It’s one of the gems that makes me love my neighborhood—and like any great bookstore, it feels like more than a place to pick up a new paperback. It’s a piece of local culture, my go-to spot for birthday presents, and a demonstration of the importance of foregrounding diverse stories. It’s also the home to The Papercuts Anthology: What Happened Here, an awesome anthology collection of works from writers who have visited the store, like Catie Disabato, Abigail Thomas, and Paul Tremblay.
2. Parnassus Books
Parnassus is another bookstore that can be your one-stop-shop for sweet gifts and stellar recommendations. Like Papercuts, Parnassus was founded by people already deeply involved in publishing—in this case, publisher Karen Hayes and bestselling author Ann Patchett. Patchett and Hayes co-founded Parnassus as a direct response to other independent bookstores in Nashville closing their doors. Since then, Parnassus has been a force in the city, even rolling out a food truck style bookmobile in 2016. Our own Nashville native Kate Ellsworth calls Parnassus her favorite bookstore—and after being lucky enough to pay it a visit, I can say it’s not hard to understand why.
3. Violet Valley
Violet Valley introduces itself as “Mississippi's Only Queer Feminist Transinclusive Bookstore”—and that sums it up better than I could. Founder Jaime Harker is also the author of The Lesbian South, and credits Violet Valley’s creation to the inspiration, joy, and resilience of Southern queers. Harker writes eloquently on the Violet Valley website about how recognizing the long history of queer and feminist figures makes constructing a queer and feminist future possible. Violet Valley has also partnered with the Southeastern Women's Studies Association—if that piques your interest, you can browse a collection of texts curated for the conference on the Violet Valley website.
4. Semicolon Bookstore
Semicolon is Chicago’s only Black woman-owned bookstore and gallery space. Luckily for the surrounding community, the store takes the social potential of such a space seriously. Semicolon has hosted some seriously cool virtual events, like a conversation with Mikki Kendall, author of Hood Feminism. They’ve also got some of the greatest merch I’ve seen, so there’s really no reason not to go support them right now.
5. Broadway Books
A staple of Portland, Oregon, since 1992, Broadway Books offers a huge selection of fiction and nonfiction. They’ve got an especially impressive kids section and a generally family-friendly vibe that keeps locals streaming in. Broadway Books is pretty much all you could want from a local bookshop—personable, active, and welcoming. It hosts meetings of book clubs, author talks, and a diverse selection of other local events. Check out their staff picks, bestsellers, or just browse their in-demand puzzle selection.
This feminist bookstore has a long history in its Austin, Texas, home. BookWoman was first started as a collective called The Common Woman Bookstore, but after the collective dissolved it maintained its spirit as a socially engaged, community-led bookstore. The storefront has moved a few times since then, but BookWoman has kept the spirit of its rich history over its 45 years of business. Personality overflows with BookWoman—there’s a real joy in getting to know the staff members through their recommendation lists, which you can browse on their website.
7. Medu Bookstore
Since 1989, Medu Bookstore owner Nia Damali has been curating a selection of fiction and nonfiction to satisfy anyone, with a special emphasis on hard-to-find and culturally significant texts. It’s one of Atlanta’s largest Black-owned businesses, and it has hosted some pretty extraordinary visitors in its time, from John Lewis to Vivica A. Fox. In addition to frequent author talks, Medu hosts family storytimes and lectures on a variety of topics. Medu’s online bookstore is under construction, so keep your eyes out for developments if you’re not in the Atlanta area.
8. Reparations Club
Reparations Club is a bookshop and creative community space, and the first Black woman-owned bookstore in LA. This winter they've hosted incredible sounding events with authors Rachel Ricketts and Ijeoma Oluo, with a portion of proceeds benefiting LA nonprofit Free From, which promotes financial independence and health for survivors of domestic abuse. As a partner with Noname's Book Club, Reparations Club is also one of the seven spaces where members of the book club can meet up and discuss their readings in person.
9. Beyond Barcodes Bookstore
Beyond Barcodes is an independent, multicultural bookshop in Kokomo, Indiana, with a special focus on educational and culturally important books. At least 80% of the books available through Beyond Barcodes are by or about people of color (or both). The shop is in the process of moving to a new location and has been undergoing some big changes lately, but is maintaining its dedication to making connections between the Kokomo community, local projects and talks, and other socially engaged organizations. Even if you don’t need a particular book right now, you can support Beyond Barcodes and the mission of independent bookstores by making a donation through the business website.
10. People Get Ready
Co-founded by two women in New Haven, Connecticut, PGR is a book-centered community space that holds its values at the absolute center of its operations. It is a place where you can purchase books—but it also foregrounds its mission as a gathering space, recognizing that pressure to make a purchase can make certain spaces feel unwelcoming. The PGR website lists a number of obstacles to community wellbeing, outlining exactly how they hope to foster a sense of belonging, connection, and affirmation for the New Haven community. PGR hosts a number of bookclubs, including clubs focused on teaching, youth, and queer experiences. It’s also home to the PGR Safe Space Forum for BIPOC women, which meets monthly to discuss books, life, and anything the participants want to bring to the table.
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