When you shop this holiday, and all year round, help support independent bookstores in your community by ordering your books early or safely planning an in-store visit. When you shop indie you support your community.
We’re featuring some of the best indie bookshops around the country to celebrate and support the work they do. This week is Word Up in Washington Heights, New York City. We spoke with Veronica Santiago Liu, Founder & General Coordinator of the store to get a sense of why it’s so beloved.
What’s the best part about being a bookseller/owning a bookstore?
The best part about founding Word Up Community Bookshop/Librería Comunitaria has been the thrill of possibility that’s come with co-creating a bookstore alongside hundreds of neighbors. We strive to provide access for readers—and potential readers—in ways that are anchored by books yet go well beyond books. We’ve chosen how we run our shop through a years-long process that’s been pretty organic, and fitting to the communities we serve and are a part of: foremost as a collective (phew!), but also as a nonprofit (so no owner), and more recently as a mix of both paid staff and volunteers (after being 100% volunteer for our first 6 years). As we have done our best to stay open—not just our doors, but to all kinds of possibilities—our neighborhood has given that openness and joy right back.
How can readers support indie bookstores most effectively?
By not taking them for granted. You like the idea of a bookstore? Of having a community space in your neighborhood? Of access to goods that can educate, entertain, change your life? Then make sure that place continues to exist by supporting it all you can—with your dollars if you have them, and by bringing others into the space too, as customers, event attendees, loudmouths who will speak up on your behalf to local elected officials. . . . Your active participation lets people know the store is important to you, and that it should remain and thrive.
Please describe a career highlight or a favorite event you’ve ever had at the store.
One of my favorite nights ever was well-captured by the late, great Jim Dwyer here, when an inexplicable loss of power, neighborly electricity, poetry and an open mic, then ultimately a punk show stretched the walls of our first pop-up location.
. . . Also the time we organized having 2,600+ people, mostly kids from the neighborhood, gather at the grandiose United Palace to finally see themselves in a book set where they live.
. . . And most recently, about a month into pandemic shutdown, our very first Zoom event—El Gran Combo—blew our minds, and steeled us for all the stress and heartache of covid still to come.
For folks who are shopping for the holidays, what 3-5 books are you recommending the most?
Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham explores, at base, the effects of abandonment on an entire family over a couple of decades in Lagos, with chapters told from the perspectives of two twin girls and their two younger brothers. I was by turns devastated and thrilled, and always in awe of Tola’s writing, like I was being taken on joyrides and slow crashes right up to the last word of the book.
Apsara Engine by Bishakh Som – It is incredible how much Bishakh can convey in the quiet wordless looks between characters across panels in these graphic stories that slyly bend time.
Class Act by Jerry Craft – Jerry’s recent middle-grade graphic novels have been perfect recommendations for kids going through so much transition, with the added bonus that our local kids recognize spots in the neighborhood.
How to Fold a Taco / Cómo doblar un taco by Naibe Reynoso. Illustrated by Ana Varela – This picture book has super cute illustrations and rhymes in both English and Spanish.
What are you personally reading right now?
Depending on where I am—what room of my apartment I’m in, what bag I’m carrying when out—I’ve been hopping around among
- Any Night of the Week: A D.I.Y. HIstory of Toronto Music 1957–2001 by Jonny Dovercourt. If you know my personal email address, you may know it comes from my college radio show, on which I only played Canadian music. 🙂
- Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams. This book has been a great comfort during a year that’s been so hard for all, including those who tend toward a caregiving role.
- The Latinos of Asia: How Filipinos Break the Rules of Race by Anthony Christian Ocampo. This book articulates many of the thoughts and feelings I’ve had swimming around since moving to my neighborhood of Washington Heights 18 years ago.
- Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang. I started reading this graphic nonfiction work, of GLY trying to teach himself basketball history and learn the personal stories of a whole high school team, because I wanted to see if it was right for my 10-year-old nephew . . . but now I’m deep in myself.
Be sure to visit Word Up if you’re in the area, or shop online on their website. Do good, shop small! Find your local bookstore here and support your community.