In celebration of National Bookshop Day Deborah penned a love letter to her favourite bookshop.
My favourite bookshop is the Women’s Bookshop in Ponsonby Road. It opened, first, in Dominion Road in 1989 the year I moved, reluctantly, from Christchurch to Auckland, following the dictates of my husband’s career.
Only one year earlier I had been immersed in a new paper in Feminist Studies at Canterbury University, one that had turned my world on its head, providing a theory and an explanation for the vague feelings of alienation and dissatisfaction that had been surfacing since becoming a mother, or, ‘just a mother,’ that’s how you were viewed then, and not a human being with a brain and yearnings to write. The move to Auckland changed my academic pathway, although the seeds of my future had been planted in that one revolutionary paper. Through a course in film studies with Professor Roger Horrocks I embarked on PhD research and it was Carole Beu’s bookshop that provided the resources I needed to do that work and write my feminist revisionist history of New Zealand film, Reframing Women: a history of New Zealand film (Harper Collins 2000).
The day I found the new bookshop in Dominion Road I felt immediately at home and excited. The atmosphere was so welcoming. You could make a cup of herbal tea, settle into a sofa in the corner and take a leisurely browse through the revolutionary texts. Carole offered an amazing collection of fiery texts. These were the heady years of the feminist movement, where there was an explosion of writing by women that provided the theoretical underpinnings for a better understanding of the gendered nature of the society in which we live. This was where you could find the Virago ‘Modern Classics’ a series that reclaimed the earlier texts of hundreds of women writers. It’s where you could source the work of feminist historians who were critiquing the masculinist bias in the historical records whilst recuperating the contribution of brilliant women writers, artists, musicians, philosophers and scientists who had formerly been ‘hidden from history.’ It’s where you could find the texts by feminist economists, planners and geographers who were re-envisioning society and how it might be better structured to create fairer, more cooperative and supportive communities for us to live in.
Carole stocked the seminal texts by: Betty Friedan, Marilyn French, Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millett, Dale Spender, Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Linda Nochlin, Phyllis Chesler, Erica Jong and the follow up books by Gloria Steinem Revolution from within, Germaine Greer The Whole Woman, Naomi Wolf The Beauty Myth and later The Backlash by Susan Faludi. She also, critically for us, supported the work of New Zealand women novelists and non-fiction writers and kept the fires burning through the 1990s and 2000s when feminism was under attack and almost went underground, until recently when we got Caitlin Moran and Clementine Ford, the younger spiky feminists who are taking us forward again.
These days when I visit the bookshop in Ponsonby Road, I value it even more. It is like a heart beating for women, in the centre of the city. I love that it is staffed by women, some of them published authors in their own right, and by Carole herself, a feminist legend, who over three decades has championed and supported women’s literature through the Listener Women’s Book festivals in the 1990s, through her radio and television book reviews, the Auckland Writers’ Festivals, the book launches at her store and her own annual Litera-Teas. While the work of male writers is included at the Women’s Bookshop it must be one of a very few public spaces that offers a kind of intellectual retreat where women can read to be empowered and inspired to be braver, bolder, wilder and more staunch. Experiences like these can’t be had through Amazon. The Women’s Bookshop is a precious institution, a taonga in our nation’s bookselling network, long may it thrive.
Deborah thanks Rangimarie Kelly and Pikau Digtal for website design and artist Karen Jarvis for her image ‘Writers at the Devonport Library,’ (2023)