Spreading the Love of Reading
Due to their exceptional programming, book clubs, and community involvement, Women and Children First was awarded the Good Neighbor Award at The Andersonville Honors Gala in 2012. Women and Children First serves as a bookstore with a friendly, knowledgeable staff comprised of many Ph.D. students studying gender or women studies and loyal customers that keep coming back for more. For all of the children in the community, Linda Bubon holds a weekly Wednesday storytime where she performs or reads about five stories to jam-packed room. There are also a few book clubs that meet once a month at the bookstore, such as the Feminist, Family of Women, Women’s Classic, and Women’s(which has been around for 30 years) Book Groups. Through their events for women and children, Linda, Ann, and their staff help their customers and their children foster a love for all different books and authors.
If you aren’t able to take a trip to Andersonville to visit Women and Children First, Ann Christopherson gives the scoop on the books she thinks you should put at the top of your reading list for the summer:
By Toni Morrison
(Knopf, May 2012)
160 pages, Paperback- $24.99 Hardcover- $24.99, eBook- $11.99
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My Only Wife
By Jac Jemz
(Dzanc Books, April 2012)
194 pages, Paperback- $15.95
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Bringing Up the Bodies
By Hilary Mantel
(Henry Holt and Co., May 2012)
432 pages, Paperback- $16.00, Hardcover- $28.00, eBook- $12.99
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See more staff picks.
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Women and Children First
A Commitment to Writers and Readers
When someone says “women and children first,” you might first think of the RMS Titanic’s protocol where women and children were the first to get into the limited number of lifeboats. In Andersonville, a neighborhood in Chicago, Women and Children First honors this past custom by providing their loyal customers “books by and about women and children’s books” first.
The idea for Women and Children First started in 1978 when Linda Bubon and Ann Christopherson, owners of the bookstore, met in graduate school as they were pursuing their Masters in literature. As they became more involved in the feminist movement and hesitant about the job prospects for an English Ph.D. student, they decided to forgo another four years of graduate school for another dream: a bookstore.
“We decided that a contribution we could make to the feminist movement was a feminist bookstore,” Ann said. When Ann and Linda opened up Women and Children First in 1979 at its first location, they had little money to invest in the business. They were able to get an initial inventory but did not have enough space or money to develop the children’s section beyond the specialized children’s books.
“There weren’t that many books to carry when we first opened, but it was a boom time for publishing at feminist and lesbian presses in our area. There was a network of feminist bookstores around the country; there were about 135 bookstores for a number of years. Then mainstream publishers caught on that feminist books were selling and we outgrew our second space, which had been twice as large as our original space,” Ann reminisced.
The new store in Andersonville opened up new opportunities for Ann and Linda to expand their collection of books and continue their commitment to providing customers with women-centric books. “When we opened in Andersonville in 1990, we began functioning as neighborhood bookstore as well as a feminist bookstore. We started carrying new literary fiction and extended our stock. I think that is why we are still around when many feminist bookstores have closed,” Ann stated.
Amidst all of the changes, Ann and Linda stay true to their initial goals when they started Women and Children First 33 years ago. “Our commitment is to bringing writer and readers together. We also have a commitment to local women writers,” Ann affirmed.
Their obligation to local, national, and international women writers is evident from one glance at the list of events that they hold at their store. “Most of the programs we hold now are based around books,” Ann said. “That wasn’t true in the early days. Although we started programming right away we did more feminist issue discussion events. We put panels together about feminist psychologists or sexual abuse. We still hold those kind of programs today, but they are more based around the books.”
This past March and April Women and Children First held a reading in the gallery space of the Swedish American Museum with Allison Bechdel, the author of the nationally acclaimed memoir, Are You My Mother?and another reading with UK author Jeanette Winterson (her only Chicago appearance) of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?. Linda and Ann continue to foster great relationships with women writers that keep them coming back to the store to share their latest work.
Their programming doesn’t stop there. Three years ago, Ann and Linda started a program called Sappho’s Salon. One Saturday a month, this program offers an evening of entertainment for members of the gay community. Between the DJ, refreshments, and emerging writers, the program is always a success in which the proceeds go towards the artists and Women and Children First’s Women’s Voices Fund.
The fund was started at Women and Children First’s 25th anniversary party in order to help Ann and Linda maintain the level and quality of programming they achieved since the opening of the store. That night, Linda and Ann raised nearly $20,000 from the 250 people in attendance, opening the bank for the Women’s Voices Fund.
“We have all kinds of programs that aren’t paid for by major publishers. We wanted to have the latitude to do, for instance, a program that we did last October called the Women’s Voices Weekend where we invited both local and national writers, paid their expenses and a stipend. We couldn’t have done that without the Women’s Voices Fund,” Ann told me.
With Ann, Linda, and their staff’s hard work, Women and Children First continues to be a place where customers can come in to browse through shelves of books and talk to the staff and other customers in a world where more people are buying books online. Between the competition with the lower prices for books offered by Amazon and other distributors, Ann stated, “The people that buy books and eBooks from us are the people that are committed to keeping us around and the independent bookstore alternative to a monopoly; a place they can actually go into, get service from, talk to people, and go to programs. Our goal is to keep on doing what we are doing because no one else in Chicago does what we do,” she concluded.
With their continued high quality of books and programs offered to their customers, Women and Children First is an asset to the Chicago community, helping women writers take over the publishing world one book at a time. To learn more about Women and Children first, visit their website at www.womenandchildrenfirst.com.
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Nicolette Amstutz is a writer for Independent Publisher. She is currently studying English and Communications at the University of Michigan. Please contact her with any comments, questions, or criticisms at namstutz (at) umich.edu.