The Feminist Bookshop

For February’s Bookshop of the Month, we’re heading down to the south coast to visit the Feminist Bookshop – an independent bookshop and plant-based café based in central Brighton. Following a successful crowdfunding campaign, the Feminist Bookshop opened in November 2019. It has since worked to support and promote self-identifying female and non-binary writers, creatives and entrepreneurs, as well as stock a range of books written by and about women. We spoke to Ruth, the store’s founder and manager, to learn out more about this inspiring shop and its mission.

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1. What was it that inspired you to set up The Feminist Bookshop and Café in Brighton?

The idea began when I first moved down here and started running a feminist book club in living rooms around Brighton and Hove. Initially I was just looking to make some new friends and talk about feminism, but it was such a lovely group and so inspiring, that I wanted to take it further. I realised that as the ground floor of my house used to be shop it could probably be converted back and it just seemed obvious – it had to be a feminist bookshop!

2. Under normal circumstances, The Feminist Bookshop encourages people to come together in a fun, open space for dialogue, discussion and debate. However, 2020 has been a landmark and challenging year for independent bookshops around the world. How have you been able to maintain your connection and commitment to the local community?

It has most certainly been a tricky time for bringing people together and engaging with the community. We feel really lucky though to have kept in contact with our incredibly supportive customers, especially in and around Brighton. One of the first initiatives we introduced when the country locked down was local deliveries, which meant I was out and about on my bike most days. We also continued to hold events,  moving to online hosting, with things like creative writing workshops, life drawing, poetry nights and book launches. We’ve also done what we can to support our local community, opening a library service for those unable to access books at the moment and fundraising for local women’s charities.

3. Stocking an entire bookshop from the ground up must have been a daunting and exciting task. How do you choose the books that line your shelves?

Yes, it was absolutely daunting and we had a really tight timeline to get the shop fitted, decorated and stocked so looking back it was all something of a whirlwind. We choose them in a combination of ways, from experience, personal favourites, contact with publishers (especially indies), direct submissions, recommendations from magazines, podcasts, blogs and from our customers. We’re still learning every day and definitely enjoying the challenge.

4. If you could pick one book on your shelves that everyone should read, what would it be and why?

There are so many books I would recommend everyone to read, that’s a really tricky question to answer. There is one book that we purchase through Yale that I recommend time and time again, called Revolting Prostitutes by Juno Mac and Molly Smith. It brilliantly sets out the ways in which our current approach to sex work is harmful both to sex workers themselves and to society at large. Speaking from their experience in the industry the authors explain how our system violates basic human rights and why we need to have a wider conversation about feminism, immigration, workers’ rights and institutional racism in order to determine the way forward. I think it’s a really important read as so many of us have preconceived notions about the industry and what sex workers need without listening to what they have to say themselves.

5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop in the coming months that you’d like to share with us?

While it’s a little bit tricky to plan ahead for in-person activities at the moment we’ve got some exciting plans for online events in the next few months especially for LGBTQ+ History Month and International Women’s Day so watch this space!