July 2008

Gili Warsett

features

Bluestockings: An Interview with Kimmie David

In the summer of 1999, a women’s collective opened Bluestockings Women’s Bookstore in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It became one of the few “rooms of her own,” a space dedicated to the women’s movement, in a country where many feminist communities had begun broadening their focus to include Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer issues. Perhaps because of the changing times and certainly because of financial difficulties that most small independent bookstores have faced, in 2003 the store closed.

After several months the store reopened with some controversial changes, including a shortened name -- Bluestockings Bookstore -- a new model of governance, and a major change in staffing which opened up the workers’ collective to include not just women, but also people who identify as transgender, genderqueer, and non-transgender men. The store is also run by a large volunteer-base. Recently, Bluestockings physically expanded their space and signed a ten-year lease. Now, the collective and the bookstore appear to have a sustainable future.

I sat down with one of Bluestockings’ six owners, Kimmie David. Visibly tattooed, her short black hair tied back in mismatched pigtails, wearing turquoise Converse, Kimmie’s eyes sparkled through thick, black cat-eyeglasses with idealism and a passion for social justice. We sat on a wooden park bench in front of Bluestockings and talked while Kimmie smoked cigarettes, sipped coffee from Bluestockings’ café, and greeted friends with hugs and waves as they walked by.

What is your relationship to Bluestockings?

One of my friends took me here about a year and a half ago. My first time here I started volunteering. I spent a lot of time here because I lived nearby in a dorm. Eventually I got invited to join the collective.

I just graduated from college with a Women’s Studies and Creative Writing major. Bluestockings is the only thing I’m qualified to do with both majors. I liked Bluestockings for the really easygoing but smart atmosphere and how friendly everyone was. Plus the books don’t hurt.

What does it mean to be an owner of the bookstore?

It’s an equal ownership between the six of us and there’s a minimum hourly commitment that we all agree to whether it’s doing work in-store or projects outside. We meet once a week and there are other smaller meetings throughout the week.

Will you talk about what the mission statement means to you? Particularly, what has been your role in upholding the goal to create “educational programming that promotes centered, strategic, and visionary thinking, towards the realization of a society that is infinitely creative, truly democratic, equitable, ecological, and free"?

When I was doing my internship for college, I worked at Bluestockings and I had to do a paper on the store, so I do have a lot of the mission statement memorized. It means something to me. As a feminist, and somebody who is working toward social justice, there aren’t that many spaces in a city this big that are doing what we’re doing. It’s hard enough to find independent bookstores, period. Feminist politics are something we still carry on today even though it’s expanded. It’s a really non-alienating space. Tourists and people’s moms who have no idea about whatever movements are going on can come in and shop for fiction in a space that is not limited or elitist or too narrow.

As far as educational programming, it’s a rare weekend when we don’t have an event both nights. The events are free and we just ask for a donation. Just the thought of having the opportunity to learn something and not have to pay for it is really fantastic.

Could you describe Bluestockings’ identity in your own words?

I see it as not just a store but also space for action to happen and a space for people to meet people. We don’t have wireless Internet so people can talk to each other. Having a face-to-face interaction is so rare today; everyone’s on their cell phone and drinking their coffees all by themselves. Bluestockings is a space for people to share a table and start up a conversation and make new friends.

There’s the other side of it where you end up volunteering and it’s this thing that you’re really committed to because you like the store and you like the people that you’re working with. Personally, it’s been a really big learning experience in my life not only learning how the shop runs but just learning about what kinds of things matter to me and where I want to take my life. I think the space has helped show me that money is not important to me. It’s important because everyone needs it to pay rent and to eat but I don’t need to buy a house and have a big screen TV. I’d rather be in a fulfilling underpaid job. That’s something that isn’t necessarily valued anymore. Coming right out of college, I see a lot of people worrying about if they’re going to get a job that pays good enough, but good enough for what?

What aspect of the bookstore are you most proud of?

That’s like saying which one of your children you like best, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have favorites. I think I’m most proud of the community that we’ve built that has also built us. If we didn’t have our volunteer base, if we didn’t have people who came to events or people who came to buy books, we wouldn’t exist. And there has to be something that keeps people coming back because you can just buy all these books off of Amazon. I think people come back because they can talk to us face-to-face. It’s no big deal to sit down with a customer for half an hour and shoot the shit. I think that’s what I’m most proud of and what amazes me: the amount of people I meet and the qualities of the interactions I have with them. It’s a lot more on the side of, “I know a lot about this topic; let’s talk about it a bit and let me find out if I can give you what you’re looking for.”

How do the six owners work toward a future vision?

I think we all generally agree with how the store could be better but we disagree on how to get there. You put six people in a room and there’s bound to be some sort of disagreement. You can’t just say hey I think we should do this and expect five other people to sign on to it; you need to build your case. I think having that disagreement helps you come out of a one-point perspective. You attack issues from all sides.

How have changes in the feminist movement and evolution toward inclusion of trans, queer, and genderqueer identities affected Bluestockings’ identity?

Just the fact that it didn’t stay a strictly women’s bookstore is inclusive in not just the gender issues and the transgender issues but with all people that are underrepresented and oppressed. Because all six owners are in these movements, we know from personal experience how they’re shifting and what they’re shifting towards. Because of our history as a feminist and as a women’s bookstore our strongest sections are on gender, transgender, and feminist issues. Of course you want to get books that are representative of history but are also speaking toward current analyses or trends of any movement. The movements that are happening now are reflected on our shelves.

How do you stay within the movement?

I feel like Bluestockings is part of the movement and a lot of the people that come through are part of the movement. We stay in the movement by getting new recommendations from customers and people who love books that we don’t have. There isn’t a written requirement as to how knowledgeable you should be about so and so movement but I think that just the kinds of people that we are within the collective: it’s our personal goals or viewpoints that we know what’s going on and we share that information with others because others see us as a resource.

Do you have a favorite book?

I just got out of college. Contrary to popular belief, I haven’t had much time to read. My favorite novel is Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. My favorite book of poetry is called What is This Thing Called Love by Kim Addonizio. Cunt is a big one; it gave me eight million ideas for how I could change my life as a feminist. And lately I’ve been reading a lot of Filipino feminism because I’m Filipina-American, which was something that I didn’t identify with for a really long time and it wasn’t until recently that I started questioning what it meant to be Filipina and American. I didn’t get the impression that Filipinas are involved in social justice. This amazing group, FIRE (Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment) did a workshop here and I started thinking about it and started identifying as a Filipina-American feminist.