Claiming Space: Sidewalk Bookselling and Belonging in New York City
This talk explores sidewalk bookselling in New York City as a dynamic space and practice for redrawing cultural, social, and legal boundaries of belonging for the bookseller and their customer-readers. Sidewalk booksellers everywhere must erect their tables on the unstable and shifting space of the sidewalk as regulated and politicized public and social space. In New York City in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, while sidewalk booksellers benefited from First Amendment exemptions for vending print material, municipal space management strategies continued to circumscribe and contain street bookselling. Within this tension, New York City’s sidewalk booksellers crafted geographies of belonging through diverse strategies of evading regulatory enforcement and cultivating intellectual and social exchange. Using the liminal and contested space of the sidewalk not only to make a living but also to create an inclusive space that incorporates the book and bookselling into the dynamics of urban social exchange, New York City’s sidewalk booksellers assert the value of books on streets.
Following Kristen’s talk, she will be interviewed by Eben Muse about her recent CUP Element, The Spaces of Bookselling, followed by an open Q&A session with all attendees.
Kristen Highland is Assistant Professor of English at American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Her research focuses on book history and the material dimensions of literary culture, including the social and cultural life of American bookstores, as well as digital humanities and mapping. She has recently published The Spaces of Bookselling: Stores, Streets, and Pages with the Cambridge University Press Elements in Publishing and Book Culture series.