In the midst of LGBT History Month, one of the only openly queer and feminist bookstores in north Mississippi opened in Water Valley.
Violet Valley Bookstore sits on Main Street, where a barber shop was originally located. Coulter Fussell repurposed the shop as Yalo Gallery, where she worked with textiles and quilts. However, the 10×40 space wasn’t large enough for her work, so when Jaime Harker, president of the board for Violet Valley Bookstore, suggested using the space for a bookstore, Fussell sublet the area.
Feminist and queer bookstores began popping up in the 1970s because people wanted more variety in their literature diet. Authors that weren’t usually featured in major chain bookstores were made available through the feminist and queer stores.
“Amazon.com and ebooks have dramatically changed how books are sold; unlike 40 years ago, you can buy just about everything you want online if you know what to look for,” Harker said. “What physical bookstores are good for is discovering books, and that’s [what] Violet Valley Bookstore will do for the larger community. It will have a large stock of used books that cover a wide variety of topics, and it will have a smaller run of new books that feature feminist and LGBTQ authors. I hope that readers will discover authors and ideas that fire the imagination.”
LambdaLiterary, one of the largest LGBTQ literary communities on the internet, had no record of any LGBTQ-friendly bookstores in Mississippi as of 2010. Movoto Real Estate has listed Oxford as one of the top three best cities in Mississippi for LGBTQ families. The University of Mississippi houses multiple organizations, including UM Pride Network and Queer People of Color, to help educate the community and support LGBTQ community members.
“I believe LGBTQ authors and books will help both educate and bring more acceptance for the LGBTQ community,” John Lester, university graduate and LGBTQ community member, said. “There is a lack of such products at the moment so I believe it will definitely be a good thing. I think what it means to have an open bookstore in north Mississippi is that Mississippi is starting to change for the better and move forward into the 21 century.”
Lester said he thinks the bookstore will be a place both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ individuals alike can come together and learn more about each other.
Violet Valley is in the process of planning a grand opening after the new year, and once the bookstore opens, hopes for opportunities to partner with university of community organizations. Violet Valley introduced a Kickstarter campaign to pay for some of the books, and met its goal amount in four days.
Harker said responses to the bookstore have been mixed.
“I have heard about some concern from people in Water Valley about the bookstore, but much of that seems to be based on misconceptions about both the bookstore and the LGBTQ community,” Harker said. “Those misconceptions are the reason that a bookstore like this is necessary, and I hope that once the store opens, my neighbors will understand that Violet Valley Bookstore is for everyone.”
All of the staff at Violet Valley Bookstore are volunteers. Because of the lack of man—and woman—power, the bookstore will start out by only being open on Fridays and Saturdays. Extension of hours will depend on support of the community. Violet Valley Bookstore also takes book donations. All donations are tax-exempt.