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The Assembly Row shop offers stories, yes, but also aims to spark discussions

(Somerville Wire) – If you’re looking for a new title or are just interested in browsing, stop by All She Wrote Books and explore. The place is more than a purveyor of good reads—its vision is to be an intersectional, feminist and queer bookstore that celebrates and supports perspectives that do not often go heard. All She Wrote endeavors to open conversations. We had one ourselves with founder and owner Christina Pascucci Ciampa, who digs for stories that often go unrecognized and gives them the shelf space they deserve.

What made you decide to open an inclusive, feminist and queer bookstore in Somerville?  How do you hope to amplify underrepresented voices?

On top of being inspired by the book The Feminist Bookstore Movement by Kristen Hogan—I was also inspired by the former feminist/queer bookstore that existed in Cambridge, MA called New Words. With All She Wrote Books, we sought to not only create a feminist/queer indie bookstore but a safe, community space that celebrated and amplifed underrepresented voices. All She Wrote was born from my desire to see books by women, queer and other traditionally oppressed groups front and center instead of sequestered to a single shelf.

With help of family and friends and the support of our amazing community—we have continued to build out the physical space at Assembly Row and our presence within the community. It is important to recognize the work that was started by those who’ve come before us. All She Wrote Books acknowledges and celebrates that work, but takes it further, putting intersectionality at the forefront with every book we curate and each conversation we have within our safe feminist/queer space.

How did All She Wrote Books begin, partnering with local businesses and bringing a small selection of books to their stores?  Would you consider All She Wrote as having started out as a pop-up?

All She Wrote Books started as a pop-up bookstore, with our first pop-up on April 20, 2019, at Bow Market. I showed up with a three-tiered IKEA cart filled with used books I took from my bookcase at home, a free version of Square on my phone to let people pay with cards, and a notebook where browsers could sign up for a newsletter. That day, I sold five of the twenty-five books I brought and had some engaging conversations with customers as well. My thought was—ok, we sold five. This is good. Let’s try it again. Let’s see if we can sell a few more. We went back two weeks later, and we sold seven.

But selling used books from my own shelves, or gathered from friends’ donations, wasn’t going to be sustainable—it also limited my titles—so I began to investigate how to order new books at a discount from supplier warehouses like Ingram, which is what allows bookstores to stock new releases and keep a rotating inventory. From there, we spent the rest of 2019 popping up in breweries, cafes, restaurants, and artisan fairs across the Greater Boston area.

Any favorite titles?

There are so many titles, but some of our favorites include Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall; Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay; Bodies are Cool by Tyler Feder (children’s book); The Library Book by Susan Orlean; Anything written by Samantha Irby, Lindy West, Langston Hughes, and Gwendolyn Brooks.

How do you see the bookstore as participating in feminist movements (like #MeToo), if at all?  Do you see books as playing a part in advancing important discussions now?

Bookstores like ours are more than transactional. It is more about having conversations about meaningful topics with customers, as it is about getting them their next read. I believe we need spaces like queer and feminist bookstores like ours more than ever, as we help to open topics for discussion and learning in the store—not about the #MeToo movement—but on topics like gender identity, politics, intersectional feminism, disability, fat phobia, and more. These can be hard conversations, but they also can be very beautiful conversations. Having the space to be able to have those conversations—or even just say to yourself, ‘I see myself in this book’—that’s the power that spaces like ours give.

Have your personal experiences or struggles played a role in your belief in sharing stories?

Opening All She Wrote Books is partially personal. As a survivor of domestic abuse, I couldn’t find stories of people that survived domestic violence—not just women, but queer people, or anyone. Also, as someone with a cognitive disability, I noticed a lack of representation of disabled characters as well. When I was younger, I did not see any books with someone in a wheelchair featured in it and being this bold, amazing character, or anybody talking about autism, whether it was fiction or nonfiction.

But I knew these types of books were out there, and so asked myself, “Why can’t we expose people to them, change their minds? Let’s get them out of their patterns of reading and buying. Let them take a shot on something different that they otherwise would not pick up.” So instead, let’s focus on the ones that were consistently marginalized throughout time that have worthy, beautiful stories that should be told.

This article is syndicated by the Somerville Wire municipal news service of the Somerville News Garden project of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.

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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.

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