Monday, December 20, 2010

Bad News from Boston

I consider myself part of the problem I'm considering today. The need to widen the scope in our conversations, to include multiple perspectives, can certainly be work, but it's work worth doing. It's easy to gravitate toward people like you and that's something we'll always do, so we all need to remember to lift our head a bit higher and look beyond the familiar to expand our thinking.

In publishing, this is especially important. There is a long history of good ol' boys publishing good 'ol boys, keeping the opportunity to publish away from so many other voices. Many see the digital revolution as a way to balance things out, but I'm not entirely convinced. I don't want these digital options to be like the pox-filled blankets offered to Native Americans by Europeans - "what modern convenience!" followed by "I feel funny..." Will digital tools offer a range of voices access to readers, or give the illusion of an access that is still being denied?

It's unclear, but what is clear is that the hits the publishing industry is taking are hitting minority voices disproportionately, as is always the way. Many of us listened with concern as bookstores committed to progressive politics such as Women and Children First in Chicago, called out for help in the midst of the recession. Now we are seeing this struggle played out at Food for Thought in Amherst, MA, which lists the challenges it's facing:
We've been hit hard by many of the same factors contributing to the nationwide decline of independent bookstores, including: big box stores, Amazon, the rise of e-books, and, more recently, a severe drop in textbooks sales.
In this context, I should not have been surprised to hear that Jamaicaway Books & Gifts here in Boston is closing its doors. Even sadder, I heard this news while at a holiday party in nearby Roslindale, where a woman of color, born and raised in Boston, went to the store for the first time upon hearing it was closing and was blown away by its many books on diversity. "My husband's Latino, and so my two kids are bi-racial, and I'm looking at all these books about US! Why didn't I come here all the time before?!" And I thought, why didn't we all? It's a typical response to the story of a independent bookstore closing.

As the recession continues and we feel its impact in publishing, let's remember that the voices that have fought hard to be part of the conversation despite years of neglect - our voices of color, our GLBT voices, our voices from working class and poor communities, etc... - are facing a very real risk of getting shut down. Regardless of your race, class, or sexual orientation, you benefit from all voices being heard.

Best of luck to Rosalyn Elder and everyone at Jamaicaway Books & Gifts, who will go forward online. Here's to a fantastic final holiday season at your store!

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