February 9, 2009

A Landmark to Close

After 42 years of service to legions of LGBT folk the world's oldest gay & lesbian bookstore, Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, will close March 29 due to the financial recession. This store was not only an important piece of modern queer history but also a beacon for countless people searching for books and stories about their lives and identities. Founded in 1967 by Craig Rodwell the bookstore served as a much-needed meeting place, activist hub, and resource in those decades before the internet.  

In his recent article in New York magazine on the legacy of the bookstore David France writes,  "In 1967, two years before the Stonewall riots, when most gay activists still used fake names to avoid arrest, [Rodwell] took his savings from cleaning Fire Island hotel rooms and opened the nation’s first gay bookstore.  Not that there were many gay books then. The real action was in the cramped back room, where Craig and his staff—he hired men and women in equal numbers—plotted a better future. The city’s first gay-pride march was planned there. Strategies for getting the Mafia out of gay bars or confronting police brutality were discussed".

I was fortunate to go on a pilgrimage to Oscar Wlde's in May 2008, with Mark and our dear friends Ingrid and Edward. I took the attached photo of them standing at the entrance to this beloved and venerable destination. How sad that soon all that will be left is a plaque to mark a sanctum where men and women flocked to better understand themselves and to find the courage to walk unafraid 

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