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Feminist Bookstore News closes
by Marie J. Kuda

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The word is out, after 24 years the Feminist Bookstore News, industry bible for lesbian and feminist booksellers, has ceased publication. Publisher Carol Seajay confirmed that the Summer 2000 issue is the last. "It's a time of sea-change going on in the entire culture," she said. "A number of complex considerations went into the decision to shut down."

Sandy Torkildson, co-owner of the 25-year-old bookstore A Room Of One's Own in Madison, Wisconsin called FBN "the Publisher's Weekly of the feminist trade. It had more than book news, it had business news: it kept us connected to what was going on. It was also a source of strength and inspiration. Articles told us of the successful strategies or problems others encountered and how they handled them."

Women booksellers around the country concur, and while lamenting the loss of the magazine as a very important marketing tool, note that Seajay, herself will be harder to replace. Her organizing skills and dedication to making all women's voices heard ( a goal they share ) facilitated the creation of the Feminist Bookstore Network, which all agree will survive. The Network has met before the annual American Booksellers Association convention for some years. "Several years ago Carol also organized a planning conference that resulted in a national catalog—a great sales boost to our stores," notes Barb Wieser, co-owner of Amazon Bookstore in Minneapolis which just completed their move into beautiful new space, including a coffee shop, in the Chrysalis Women's Center building. "We will stay connected," Weiser said.

In the early days Seajay noted that women booksellers couldn't even afford to keep in touch by long-distance phone calls. Now they are linked daily via the internet list-serve she set up.

Author, publisher and artist Tee Corinne, who contributed FBN's art books column since 1987, said: "It has been both an honor and a treat ... FBN was the glue that kept women booksellers around the world together and gave them power."

Ann Christophersen of Chicago's Women & Children First also used "glue" to describe the "sense of connection to each other" FBN provided booksellers, " it is difficult, in some ways, to imagine a future without it." An even greater loss, she says, "... is Carol Seajay herself. Her political savvy, knowledge of the publishing industry, leadership skills, creative and enterprising ideas and labors, and passionate conviction about the value of feminist bookstores ... ." The Feminist Bookstore Network is already in the process of re-organizing and will meet the challenge left by Seajay's departure. "There are energetic, skillful, young feminist booksellers stepping in and a goodly number of the old guard is still invigorated and committed our project," says Christophersen.

The Feminist Bookstore News grew out of the desire by booksellers who had attended the now legendary 1976 Women in Print Conference to maintain communication. WIP, organized principally by the late-author June Arnold, founder of Daughters Press, brought together 130 lesbian and feminist publishers, booksellers, and printers to a dusty, dry campground in Nebraska for a week-long exploration of how to build a sustainable women's book network. Arnold's vision was of an unbroken economic chain of feminist and lesbian presses using women-owned print shops to publish lesbian and feminist authors, whose books would be marketed by women booksellers. Seajay was at that conference as an early member of the collective that ran A Woman's Place Bookstore and was co-founder of Old Wives Tales later in 1976. She left seven years later—the store itself lasted 19 years, closing in 1995.

"The community will get what it values. If we value our lesbian and feminist owned businesses we have to make a commitment to sustain them. If we don't support them and stop spending our dollars at the big chains, we won't have them," Seajay says. She cited the recent attempt by an electronic bookstore to co-opt our market by the creation of a "gay and lesbian bookstore" within their website. Giovanni's Room of Philadelphia put the lie to its "predatory competitor," pointing out online that some titles on their lesbian lists had no lesbian content, that their gay history list included a "fundamentalist rant which maintains we are all going to hell," and "for no other reason than the author's first name" included Gay Talese's family history. Alerted, they have since made an effort to clean up their act.

For the last 18 months Seajay has quietly been exploring options, hoping that other hands might continue the publication. She emphasized that if anyone were to take over FBN, it would have to be relocated from its only home to date, San Francisco. "When my long-term lease expired recently, rent quadrupled from $1,200 to $4,800 a month." FBN has annual advertising revenues in the area of $90,000. Five hundred subscribers, paying on a sliding-scale determined by their sales ( a feminist innovation ) , make up about 30 percent of the remaining over-all budget. Ceding that her own economic future was part of the closing consideration, she said at issue was a labor of love versus facing elder care. She has to raise her income level from subsistence to something that will give her a decent base for Social Security. "There is a price to pay for doing what you want in life."

Seajay is not pessimistic about the future of lesbian and feminist publishing. "There are changes going on in the whole culture ... lesbian literature has survived through the most difficult times. There will always be communities of women anxious for their stories and their history."

Copyright 2000 Marie J. Kuda e-mail

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