It’s about time we celebrated London’s amazing LQBT+ bookshop Gay’s The Word – and the perfect time too in the throws of Pride! Since 1979 they’ve been helping, championing, entertaining and holding out a friendly, book-filled hand to others in the LGBT+ community, their families, and their friends. Despite their big-name fans like THE Sarah Waters, they don’t let the fame go to their heads and manager Jim, in the midst of frantic Pride sales, took the time to catch up with us.
How / why did you get into bookselling?
I was working at Minority Rights Group when a job came up at Gay’s The Word and I applied for it. I’ve always loved books and my Dad had a bookshop back in Ireland so I used to help out in school holidays.
What’s your favourite memory from working at Gay’s the Word?
Favourite memories are always about people. Two women came into the bookshop with flowers and a photographer. It was their wedding day and they had met at our weekly Lesbian Discussion Group so wanted to mark the occasion.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve heard someone say in the shop?
We have great fun with our customers. There’s lot of conversation and playful banter. For some, it’ll be their first time in an LGBT bookshop and it can be overwhelming, empowering, moving. Others have been coming in for years and it’s fun talking books, politics, theatre, film. There’s real engagement which is why it’s such a pleasure to work here.
What’s your favourite And Other Stories book?
What book published in the 2019 do our readers need to get their hands on?
I love opening boxes of books wondering what treasures lie inside waiting to be put on the shelves. White Houses by Amy Bloom is a wonderful novel looking at the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok and has just come into paperback. I highly recommend Exceeding My Brief: Memoirs of a Disobedient Civil Servant by Barbara Hosking. From working under Harold Wilson and Ted Heath to going to the Gateways Club and lesbian life in the 50s/60s, it’s a cracking good read.
Which books have helped you discover more about and be proud of who you are?
With Downcast Gays: Aspects of Homosexual Self-Oppression by Andrew Hodges was a booklet from the 1970s which was hugely influential. Published by the Gay Liberation Front it challenged so much of what I knew and helped form a basis for my politics. Stonewall by David Carter is the definitive history of the Stonewall Uprising and Gay Berlin by Robert Beachey is a fascinating account of the early gay rights movement in Germany.
Given your shop is always so full of pride, what have you done to make it even more special for Pride Month?
The weeks around Pride are always busy and it’s particularly so this year as the BBC did a little film about us. It’s our 40th anniversary so there’s been a lot of coverage. We’re just trying to keep the bookshop stocked with interesting books and be ready and willing to engage with our customers whether it’s that lovely Mum who came in recently looking for books for her 15 year old daughter who’d come out as bisexual or visiting academics looking for obscure titles.