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Women & Children First marks 40 years with 20 best-sellers
by Melissa Wasserman

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Turning the page, Women and Children First ( W&CF )began its 40th anniversary programming with a panel discussion on March 24.

People gathered into the store to see the panel, which featured W&CF co-founders Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon and current co-owners Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck. The panel discussed how each title came to be on the list. As they went up the list, starting at number 20 and ending at number one, each panelist took turns sharing their own personal stories in relation to each book and its author, thoughts on the featured books and authors, as well as the importance and impact of the book in the general public.

"Ann and I met in graduate school in the late '70s," Bubon recalled into the microphone on the panel. "We were ardent feminists and we wanted to do something with our passion for women's literature and we decided to open a bookstore. We took all of our savings and we built everything from scratch, including our advertising and the shelves and everything. It was something two young women could do with their savings instead of, say, investing it in a PhD program. We invested it in this instead."

Bubon continue to describe the store's growth from a small store that opened in November 1979 on Armitage Avenue to a place on Halsted in the '80s to its current location on Clark Street in 1990 with a store expansion in 1997.

The event was originally set to present the store's top 10 best-sellers of all time, but as the panelists humorously stated, there were just too many titles over the 40 years to keep it to 10 books. It was an evening full of nostalgia and passion for women in literature as the panel presented the store's top 20 all-time best-sellers.

The books on W&CF's 20 All-Time Bestsellers list includes:

1. My Life on the Road, by Gloria Steinem

2. Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay

3. The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, by J.K. Rowling

5. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel

6. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, by Samantha Irby

7. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

8. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

9. Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much, by Anne Wilson Schaef

10. The Courage to Heal, by Ellen Bass

11. Beloved, by Toni Morrison

12. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

13. Rubyfruit Jungle, by Rita Mae Brown

14. Stone Butch Blues, by Leslie Feinberg

15. Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde

16. Indemnity Only, by Sara Paretsky

17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

18. Woman and Nature, by Susan Griffin

19. This Bridge Called My Back edited, by Gloria Anzaldua and Cherrie Moraga

20. The House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende

"Being behind the scene of the process of making the list was a very interesting conversation," Hollenbeck said to Windy City Times. "It was very hard to narrow down just our top 10. We really wanted to work hard to make a list that was more reflective of the day to day sales."

"Our store was founded to showcase and uplift marginalized voices," said Hollenbeck, who plans the events and programs at W&CF and was pleased with the conversations had. "So, the women authors, authors of color, queer authors, trans authors, that's the focus of this store. The 40th anniversary is a really important milestone because a lot of people think of these issues as new… but Ann and Linda have been doing this work since 1979 and it's time for them to get some recognition for that."

The co-founders explained how all those years ago it was almost impossible to find books by women in general bookstores. This is something they wanted to conquer.

"We wanted to sell literature; we didn't want to sell genre fiction," said Bubon of the store.

Bubon and Christophersen, both English majors and feminists, were on the same page of what they wanted their store to be—political and literary. W&CF, according to the two founders, has always been called a feminist bookstore that not only carried important feminist works, but has also carried works related to other political and progressive movements. The original mission, they both agree, has carried on through today.

"Our background is literary," added Christophersen. "That's what we knew about. We wanted a political store. We wanted to be feminists for sure, but we also wanted to be literary. We wanted to cultivate both those subject areas."

"Feminism is a dynamic movement," Bubon explained. "It has changed and evolved over the years and one of the reasons we're still in business is we went into this to learn things. To complete our education and further our education and we've learned so much."

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