Monday, December 07, 2009

Lambda Rising, RIP

Sorry for the one-two punch here, folks, but some sad news from bookselling to report: Lambda Rising, the wonderful, well-stocked, and lively gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (glbt) bookstore in Washington DC, is closing early in 2010. The story of this closing is recounted in three parts, starting here. In fact, the whole chain will now be closed, with the closing of the DC and Rehoboth Beach, DE store closings.

The three part story is worth reading, as it contains a lot of fascinating gay history. The owners accomplished so much in their 35 years opening and running these stores. In addition, Deacon Maccubbin, Lambda Rising's founder and co-owner, saved the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in NYC from closing in 2003, though it, too, had to close its doors in 2009. In managing Lambda Rising, Maccubbin and his spouse, Jim Bennett, reached out to communities with no lgbt stores, setting up outlets in these communities to get gay-themed books to folks in those areas. They also kicked off DC Gay Pride before turning over the event to special organizers when it got too large.

It is also worth noting what they did to help lgbt literature across the board at a crucial time in our history:

In another effort to encourage writers and publishers to produce quality glbt books, in 1987 Maccubbin began publishing the “Lambda Book Report,” a bimonthly review of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender literature. That publication spawned the “Lambda Literary Awards.” The first “Lammys” were given out in a black-tie awards ceremony held in Washington DC in 1989. Lambda Rising continued to shepherd both the review and the Lammy awards until 1986 when it turned the whole program over to a new non-profit organization, the Lambda Literary Foundation, which continues to run the annual awards program today.

In 1987, the AIDS crisis was in full force and the backlast against the gay community was intense. The owners don't mention this context but I think it's well worth mentioning, as it makes their efforts that much braver, and important.

I'm so frustrated by these closures. I know lgbt publishing and activism has changed, but I also know that queer people look for homes when they go to new cities, and I fear the only place they will find such homes will be bars and clubs. Now I'm all for such venues, but there as to be more. And if those places can stay open, why can't bookstores?

I then go back to what I have wondered before: can't these places go non-profit and survive?

I'm going to look more into this idea, as I think it's a valuable discussion to have, beyond glbt bookstores. Fortunately, Chad Post over at the Three Percent blog provides a good starting place in this post on the very concept. He mentions in that post the non-profit bookstore Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee. Of course, this effort failed with the Shaman Drum in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

More to come on this concept, as we cannot let community minded bookstores - lgbt, feminist, African American-oriented, etc - fall to the wayside in a crap economy. I will mention in closing, however, that Boston does in fact still have a terrific gay bookstore: Calamus Bookstore, run by the tireless John Mitzel. Visit online or in person and you won't be disappointed!


Alan said...
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Alan said...

"A Community's Bricks and Mortar: Karibu" Read it at