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Feminist & Queer Bookshops – Community and Censure

24 February 2023 @ 2:00 pm 3:30 pm GMT

Join Dr Kathy Liddle and Dr Sarah Pyke as they present their work on feminist and queer bookstores as places of contested cultural interactions.

BRN Symposium: Feminist & Queer Bookshops – Community and Censure

Kathy Liddle

My presentation today will focus on two strands of my research on North American feminist bookstores. First, I will briefly discuss my published research on the role of feminist bookstores as what I term cultural interaction spaces. In this case, intentionally curated selections and carefully cultivated atmospheres open opportunities for their patrons to interact, observe, and experiment with cultural materials. For my respondents – primarily lesbians – the spaces contributed to their identity development and to the development of group solidarity. Second, I will briefly introduce a project underway to explore how feminist bookstore owners historically claimed a niche that drew in part on a capitalist market logic, while simultaneously critiquing capitalism and endeavouring to embed their activities in a feminist logic. I show how these owners managed to blend these competing and often contradictory demands in pursuit of both profit and social change.

Kathy LiddleDr. Kathy Liddle is Associate Professor, in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto Scarborough. She has developed and taught courses on introductory sociology, culture, media, qualitative methods, and the sociology of books, as well as a graduate seminar on teaching sociology. She incorporates critical pedagogies into her teaching, with a particular interest in supporting first-generation students and students from underrepresented communities. She is currently researching engagement and community-building in large enrollment courses. Her disciplinary research interests lie at the intersections of culture, organizations, gender, and sexuality. Her work on feminist bookstores considers their organizational logics, contexts of emergence and decline, and contributions to fostering feminist thought in general, and lesbian-feminist community in particular; this research has been published in Cultural Sociology and The Journal of Lesbian Studies.

Sarah Pyke

“Gay Books Will Burn” proclaimed a headline in London freesheet Capital Gay in June 1984, following the second of several raids by HM Customs and Excise on Gay’s the Word bookshop, Bloomsbury. These raids, known as ‘Operation Tiger’, saw thousands of pounds’ worth of stock seized, staff homes searched, and the shop’s directors and manager charged with importing indecent or obscene titles. They faced an Old Bailey trial, and possible imprisonment: the most high-profile obscenity case since that of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1960. Yet ‘Operation Tiger’ – and the sustained, and ultimately successful, campaign mounted to ‘Defend Gay’s the Word’ in the face of this heavy-handed state intervention ­– remains a largely underexamined episode in queer history.  In this talk, I place ‘Operation Tiger’ in a longer history of literary censorship and queer book use, examining the relationship between the state, the (queer) reader, and the British bookselling and publishing industries.  

Dr Sarah PykeDr Sarah Pyke is an early career academic working on queer histories of the book. Currently MHRA Postdoctoral Research Associate at Anglia Ruskin University, Sarah has taught at the University of Roehampton and Anglia Ruskin University, and has held fellowships at Freie Universität, Berlin, and the Institute of English Studies, University of London. In 2023, Sarah co-convened (with Malcolm Noble) a symposium and practice-based workshop, Queer Bibliography: Tools, Methods, Practices, Approaches, and is teaching a London Rare Books School course on children’s books. She is the recipient of the SHARP 25th Anniversary Fellowship Award 2023, which will fund further research into ‘Operation Tiger’, the 1980s raids by HM Customs on Gay’s the Word bookshop in London. The Award will facilitate the creation of a new collection of oral histories of the raids and their aftermath.

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