Written by Katie Martinez
Conservative Water Valley, Mississippi is now the home of a queer feminist bookstore named Violet Valley Bookstore. The volunteer-driven, nonprofit storefront was opened this month by Jaime Harker, a professor and director of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Mississippi. Violet Valley Bookstore’s stock is primarily from donations and includes authors such as Rita Mae Brown and Fannie Flagg. Funding for the bookstore was raised with a Kickstarter campaign that began in October and reached the goal of $5,000 in only four days!
Harker said she wanted to create a space where the LGBTQ community can feel included, safe, and comfortable. Violet Valley Bookstore serves as a place where people can be exposed to stories and media that work to normalize LGBTQ identities and provide youth with characters and narratives that they can relate to.
Bookstores like Violet Valley began popping up in the U.S. around the 1970s and served as important hubs for LGBTQ culture. Harker told NBC News she remembers a local feminist bookstore she frequented as a grad student in Orem, Utah. “As I was coming out, it was a space that I could go where I could feel safe, where I could find books by Jeanette Winterson, and I could see other gay people.” Since many of these independent bookstores have closed because of retail giants like Barnes & Noble, Harker seems determined to provide the LGBTQ community of Water Valley with that same sense of belonging that she felt as a student in that small feminist bookstore.
Harker is attempting to fulfill a need within the rural conservative town for LGBTQ youth to feel welcomed as the state continues to pass laws such as HB 1523, an anti-LGBTQ religious freedom bill. Even during the Kickstarter campaign before the store had opened, there were rumors directed at the store based on misconceptions and bias regarding LGBTQ identities.
However, despite the negative feedback the store has received, there’s also been an abundance of support and love from the surrounding community. The amount of positive responses to the bookstore indicates a growing need for inclusive spaces where people of different backgrounds and identities can connect with one another through authors and stories that work to celebrate LGBTQ culture. If you’re interested in supporting queer feminist bookstores like Violet Valley Bookstore, make sure to check out Bookwoman here in Austin, located on North Lamar.