The struggle of feminist booktores
In this interview with Anjula Gogia, she tells the story of her involvement with the Toronto Women’s Bookstore (TWB) — from the mid-1990s to 2006. Anju brought a love of books and an appreciation of how to run a business that she learned from her mother. She speaks of how the TWB became an intersectional, queer positive, anti-racist feminist bookstore and a hub for writers, readers and activists.
Anju highlights the key role of Sharon Fernandez and Mona Oikawa in developing a Women of C0lour bibliography, paving the way for the TWB foregrounding, stocking and promoting the works of Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour. She reminds us how important this resource was in the days before the internet and in the context of an overwhelming white feminist bookstore network across North America. Anju also talks about how the TWB responded to the issue of appropriation that was at the core of challenges that Black, Indigenous and women of colour posed to feminist presses, bookstores and the movement as a whole.
Anju recounts some of the earlier history of the TWB and the firebombing of the Morgentaler clinic upstairs which destroyed the bookstore. This was a pivotal moment of rebuilding with massive support from feminist communities.
Anju speaks about how the TWB situated itself as a retail and a political organization within the feminist movement, how it developed relationships with presses, with writers, with other organizations, despite political differences. She talks about how the TWB dealt with issues of porn, erotica and sex work and what books to carry and/or promote. She gives us an insider account of the dramatic controversy around buttons that declared “Women Against the Occupation” that the bookstore sold, which precipitated a boycott. Solidarity and compromise resolved the conflict.
And finally, Anju gives us a sense of how the bookstore survived financially, particularly by building up university course orders. She talks about the impact of the mega bookstores and the internet. And despite the TWB closing, she talks of how significant it was as a community space, for finding ourselves, for learning about each other. It was a space that saved lives.
with Anjula Gogia
interviewed by Amy Gottlieb
This project has been made possible in part by Library and Archives Canada’s Documentary Heritage Communities Program.