Austin bookstore cultivates diverse set of titles, prioritizing queer, female-written stories

Mimi Calzada, Life and Arts Reporter

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the July 6, 2022 flipbook.

CW: Mention of homophobia and hate speech

Susan Post first opened BookWoman on Guadalupe Street with a group of 13 women almost 50 years ago. Post said her brief stint as a library assistant at UT’s Battle Hall solidified her love of books, and her job allowed her to discover titles and authors that she would not have known about otherwise.

“I already knew that books were important to my life,” Post said. “When I went to work at the library, … I saw (books) that I wouldn’t necessarily be attracted to. In those wanderings, I found Gertrude Stein, and I would just sit down and read.” 

According to its website, the store started as a collective called The Common Woman Book Store, taking inspiration from Judy Grahn’s “The Work of a Common Woman.” From there, Post brought the bookstore into her own home before its brief hiatus and eventual settling down at its present location on North Lamar. Post said BookWoman prioritizes equality and inclusion over sticking to the status quo, as seen by its resolve to carry titles that are overwhelmingly written by female and queer authors. 

Given the recent events affecting reproductive rights, Post said BookWoman remains this safe and nurturing environment, now more than ever.    

“Our foundation is feminism,” Post said. “The Supreme Court decision (to overturn Roe v. Wade) reiterated that we’re a safe space for feminists, for reproductive health (and) abortion rights. People came here on Friday crying. (Being a safe space for women is) as important as being a safe space for queer people.”  

However, Post said her efforts were met with pushback in the beginning of BookWoman’s fruition. Post said in the early days, she and her coworkers were subject to homophobic harassment and bullying, receiving comments like “dirty lesbians” from passersby. Post said the community reception of BookWoman has since changed, now receiving support from local patrons.

“We had a couple who brought in a baby, and they said this is the first bookstore he’s been to,” Post said. “This is where we wanted to bring him, and they bought (their baby) two books. The dad bought a book (about) how to raise a boy, mom bought a book about mental health. It was just so great.”

Senior bookseller Audrey Kohler said the store constantly works to ensure that customers know  the store’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues, including a resolution to stop carrying the “Harry Potter” books after author J.K. Rowling voiced transphobic sentiments. 

 “We felt that more harm than good would come when people would see (Rowling) on our shelves,” Kohler said. “There are discussions that are had when an author makes a statement that would make the store (feel unsafe) to somebody who needs a safe space.”

These days, a tight-knit group of three employees works at BookWoman, allowing the bookstore to ensure it is hiring the best and brightest booksellers in Austin, Post said. Out of all five locations that BookWoman has called home over the decades, Post said the current location on North Lamar brings her the most personal satisfaction.  

Austinite Katie Martin, a frequent shopper at the store, said she loves the diverse range of literature that BookWoman provides and frequently finds herself sharing the store with the people closest to her. 

“There are so many different book titles that are beyond the mainstream that I wouldn’t think of,” Martin said. “Being a biracial woman of color, I can’t imagine shopping at another bookstore in Austin.”