Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Oscar Wilde Bookshop

It is a sad day in history for gay & lesbian New York. The Oscar Wilde Bookshop on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village is closing after being in business for 41 years. It is the oldest gay & lesbian bookstore in the United States. For those of you who are not gay, the tragedy of this may not seem like such a big deal, but bookstores such as Oscar Wilde, Giovanni's Room in Philadelphia (here's my post about their 35th birthday), and Gay's the Word in London, for decades have helped gay men and lesbians find an outlet in which they could share their intellectual and leisure reading pursuits. Before libraries actively collected gay & lesbian literature, these bookstores were the only places where one could find solace in knowing there were other people who were not only like you, but shared similar interests as you, and would not judge you, alienate you, or even kill you, just because you were attracted to people of the same gender. The Oscar Wilde Bookshop has been an icon of gay New York culture as well, with active participation in the gay scene, frequently hosting book signing events for authors. The picture above is the store entrance decorated for Pride Fest 2008, which just demonstrates their involvement with the community at large for more than 4 decades. The closing of this store is a tragedy not only in terms of the gay & lesbian world, but also because another small bookshop in America is closing. Part of the reason for their closing is the struggling economy, but part of it also is because they've been overrun by big business and the Internet: the Barnes & Noble and Amazon industry. The worst part is that I cannot help but feel like "we" are in part to blame. I've been to Oscar Wilde a few times. Should I have shopped there more? I signed copies of my book and they stocked and sold it. Should I have done more to help them out? I feel guilty that I never did enough to help them. But in reality it isn't all "my" or "our" fault. Is it time we realize that gay & lesbian culture is forever changing? As more and more out gay men and lesbians enter the public sphere in politics, education, entertainment, and other industries, do we still need environments like gay bookstores to serve what was once a minority population? Have we outgrown these settings? Or is this more about the publishing industry? The more we succumb to the temptations of discounts at Amazon, have we lost any sense of needing to browse books in a bookstore? I'm troubled by all these questions, because my innate sense is that we DO still need these gay & lesbian environments, and we do need local bookstores. And yet, is there anything we can do about it? Perhaps this is one of those things in life that we have to learn to let go of, accept reality for what it is, and move on. If that's the case, I'm troubled by it. But what choice do we have? If there are answers out there, I'd really love to know what they are. And so it is with sadness that I post here an excerpt from The Oscar Wilde Bookshop in an email they sent out to their customers and posted on their website: "It is with a sorrowful heart that after 41 years in business the Oscar Wilde Bookshop will close its doors for the final time on March 29, 2009. We want to thank all of our customers for their love and loyalty to the store over the years. You have helped make this store a world wide destination and all of us at the store have enjoyed welcoming our neighbors whether they are next door or half way around the world."


Sherman Clarke said...

When I walked by today, there were sale signs in the windows. I resisted going in because I need more books to pack like I need a hole in the head. Still, it was awfully tempting but I just couldn't risk it. It's bees and honeypots with me and bookstores, especially when there's gay or art content to be had.

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