Reflecciones: LSE: The best bookshops in South Texas, USA

LSEBestBookshopsIn the latest in our series on bookshops around the world that academics should visit, LSE doctoral candidate Olivia Mena surveys the Latino/a literary landscape of bookstores in South Texas. If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit when they’re undertaking research or visiting a city for a conference, find more information about contributing below.

Austin, Texas is most famous for South by Southwest (SXSW), an increasingly popular interactive, media and film festival, but the city and wider region also has a reputation for its love of literature. Austin is home to the statewide Texas Book Festival, and the nearby city of San Antonio became the first major Texas city to appoint a poet laureate in 2012, and also launched an annual city book festival in 2013. There is a vibrant and growing literary community in Texas, anchored by some of the leading Latino/a writers in the United States who are creatively advocating for a more inclusive literary cannon in schools and university campuses that reflects the diverse and growing Latino/a population in the Southwest and in the greater United States.

Austin, Texas during SXSW. Credit: bildungsr0man CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Latino/a literature captured U.S. headlines in 2010 when Arizona passed a controversial law banning ethnic studies programs in public schools in Arizona, and in 2012 by removing books by primarily Mexican American authors from Tucson classrooms. In response, a group called the Librotraficantes (trans. “book traffickers”) formed to “smuggle” banned books back into Arizona and into communities across the Southwest in the form of underground libraries, an act of artistic political protest. You can visit one of many of the Underground Libraries installed all over the Southwest in cities including San Antonio, Houston, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Tucson and others. These libraries, which include banned works by American award-winning authors like Rudolfo Anaya, Sandra Cisneros and Dagoberto Gilb, are raising awareness about the importance of Mexican American literature and studies in a region with growing Latino/a populations. In late 2013, seven of the banned books were allowed back into Arizona classrooms.

A sit-in at AZ State Building in Tucson to protest anti-ethnic studies law. Credit: Steev Hise CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In the 1980s, small bookstores like Resistencia Bookstore in Austin were so much more than shops; they were cultural centers for organizing, political protest, and education. Late poet Raúl Salinas, opened the bookstore to distribute educational and political literature and create a performance space for Chicano/a and Native American cultural arts. Today this small gem, continues to be a hub for Latino/a poets and writers and a space for revolutionary readings. It is getting ready to turn a new page in its history as it moves to its new location in Austin next month.

Another local radical reading location in Austin is MonkeyWrench Books, a bookstore collective focusing on economic and social justice literature that has been open for twelve years. The entirely volunteer-led and -run bookstore is an active intellectual space and café, where readings, screenings, poetry, performances and community organizing happen regularly. All the decisions about MonkeyWrench are made through collective, consensus decision-making, which has opened up ways for members to innovate individual projects and shape the direction of the bookstore. For example, one member, Rocío Villalobos, started tabling Monkeywrench Books at the city’s Farmers Market and other events as a way to be more engaged with the larger community and make books more accessible to people who don’t know about the bookstore or live close enough to stop by.

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Olivia Mena is a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department at the London School of Economics. Her work looks at global border walls in the context of contemporary immigration and securitization initiatives. She holds a master’s degree in Bilingual and Bicultural Studies from the University of Texas at San Antonio and a master’s in Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies from the London School of Economics. You can follow her on twitter @borderwalls.

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Do you have a favourite bookshop? If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit when they’re undertaking research or visiting a city for a conference, then now’s your chance to tell us all about it.

As part of a new weekly feature on LSE Review of Books, we’re asking academics and students to recommend their favourite two or three bookshops in a particular city, with the aim of building an exciting online series for our book-loving community of readers the world over.

Bookshops could be academic, alternative, foreign language, hobby-based, secret or underground institutions, second hand outlets, or connected to a university. We’d like to cover all world regions too.

If something comes to mind, we’re looking for around 100 words per bookshop, detailing why this place is a must-see. Our editorial team can then find suitable photos and links to accompany the piece, though you’re welcome to supply these too. We only ask that you focus on just one city or region, and two or three bookshops within it.

Email us now if you’d like to contribute: lsereviewofbooks@lse.ac.uk