The self-proclaimed “queer feminist” Violet Valley Bookstore in Water Valley will celebrate its grand opening at 6 tonight. The event will feature readings by director of UM’s English MFA program Derrick Harriell and other writers. The celebration is free and open to the public.
The store is the brainchild of English professor Jaime Harker, who is also the director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies. According to an interview with NBC News, Harker saw the need for the LGBTQ bookstore as a result of her experience with a similar store that she visited frequently while in graduate school.
The bookstore is not endorsed or financially supported by the university, and it is separate from Harker’s work with the Isom Center. The venture is a volunteer effort by Harker and other community members.
“We are a resource for the entire community, and we hope folks will see the bookstore as a place to discover books, meet friends and support folks in the state who sometimes feel invisible or ostracized,” Harker said.
The bookstore hopes to engage a community that is underrepresented in small-town Mississippi. The small size of the store and the fact that it is supported by volunteers and book donations allow its leaders to make this an inclusive space for people of all income groups.
“Violet Valley Bookstore makes feminist, queer, and multicultural books available to the Water Valley community, the state of Mississippi, and the South,” its mission statement reads. “The bookstore provides a series of readings and other programs to support diverse voices in Mississippi. It features new and used books so that everyone, no matter their income bracket, can afford to have books.”
Violet Valley Bookstore, an educational nonprofit on Main Street in Water Valley, officially opened in December, but this celebration aims to bring the community together in support of the store.
“It’s really just a chance to invite folks down to the bookstore to browse and enjoy,” Harker said. “(The bookstore) started up in December, just as many folks were leaving for the holidays, so we wanted to have a formal launch party now that everyone is back in the swing of things.”
Harriell will read from his most recent collection of poetry at the grand opening event and there will be a limited number of signed copies available for purchase. According to Harker, Harriell is bringing other writers to the event, but she doesn’t know who they are.
“I look forward to being surprised,” Harker said. “We have such a wealth of writing talent here that I know we are in for a treat.”
Harriell said these other writers will be MFA students Lara Avery, Julian Randall Williams and Sarah Sgro.
Harriell has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, a literary prize by Pushcart Press that honors poetry and other short-form literature that is published by small presses. He also won the 2014 Poetry Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. His most recent collection is “Stripper in Wonderland,” which was published in 2017.
“I think (Violet Valley Bookstore) will be huge for the Water Valley and Oxford-area literary community,” Harriell said. “We have a robust community of writers, and I think this provides us with another outlet and resource where we might read, congregate and enjoy books and the written and spoken word.”
The store’s usual hours are Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the grand opening will last from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.