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Women & Children First Turns the Big Three-Oh

By Joseph Erbentraut in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 30, 2009 9:00PM

Considering the number of feminist-geared works that consistently rank high on the ALA's annual most-challenged book list, what better timing than Banned Books Week could there be for Chicago's very own feminist bookstore, Women & Children First, to mark their 30th anniversary?

The Andersonville-based store, one of the few (seven) remaining feminist bookstores in the nation, will celebrate three decades of operation this Saturday, Oct. 3, with a reception at the Breakers, 5333 N. Sheridan. Notable authors Alison Bechdel (of Dykes to Watch Out For fame) and Dorothy Allison (author of Cavedweller) will be on hand to add a bit of pomp to the circumstance, which will serve as a benefit for The Women's Voices Fund, the store's not-for-profit programming arm.

As author Gina Frangello blogged on Huffington Post earlier this week, Women & Children First has become a landmark for progressive thinkers and writers. Over the years, the store has become known as much more than a place to procure literary gems free of corporate logos. It regularly hosts readings featuring authors ranging from local upstarts to such prominent names as Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou. And their book and support groups offer a chance for like-minded members of the community to gather and discuss everything from classic women's novels to Buffy analysis.

But perhaps more than that, W&CF stands as a testament to the power of community-oriented business, even in times of economic distress. As Frangello describes, when the shop faced the seemingly imminent risk of closure in 2007, the community came to its rescue and continues to play a major role in its "miraculous" survival despite the growth of major retailers like Amazon and Borders.

"This is a national issue. If these seven [remaining feminist] stores disappear, an entire culture will be lost," W&CF co-owner Linda Bubon told Frangello.

"It's not just our readings featuring important writers, but also the fact that we have entire sections of the store devoted to issues like healing from rape or how to leave a battering relationship. It's the fact that we will never stock a book that has the word 'diet' in the title. It's a children's story-time hour where gay and lesbian parents feel welcome, and the bulletin board where you can sign up for an all-women soccer league, and that we offer support groups for new moms, or women working to overcome cutting. The chain stores can never step in to fill that cultural gap."

Tickets for Saturday's celebration, beginning at 7 p.m., cost $60, or $100 if you'd also like to attend a cocktail reception starting at 5:30 p.m. More information is available here or by calling 773-769-9299.