Each month we’re featuring a new indie bookstore that we operate in solidarity with. This month it’s the Raven, a classical bookstore of many reboots, owners, and iterations. The Raven is now worker-owned and specializes in supporting its local community, while providing a safe space for people in risk and a series of local and national marketing initiatives. We talk to co-owner Chris this week on the pod!
For more from the Bookstore Solidarity Project, check out our interview about The Raven with co-owner Danny Caine here, and our podcast interview with Danny here! And snag a copy of How to Protect Bookstores and Why while you’re at it.
Tell us a little bit about the store and your community: The Raven Book Store has been serving Lawrence, Kansas since 1987. It opened as an all-mystery store but has since expanded into a general interest indie with a strong focus on local books to serve the needs of this midwestern college town. We have one store cat, Dashiell, whose personality is as big as his belly. We love being in Lawrence, a community that knows the value of independently-owned small businesses.
What got you into bookselling?
I got a part-time job as a Raven bookseller when I was at the University of Kansas working on my MFA. I fell in love with bookselling and the rest was history!
What’s something about your store that you think will surprise people? 20-30% of our sales are online, and much of that support comes from people who aren’t in Kansas. We’re honored and grateful to have found so many supporters across the country and around the world.
What are some of you favorite ways your community supports your store?
There’s the usual and essential stuff like attending events, preordering books, posting pictures of the store online, and stopping into the store. But we love just as much the surprises, like people bringing us newspaper clippings or customers telling us jokes.
What are some books you can’t wait for people to read? There are too many to count! Our monthly staff picks are on our website, and they’re a great way to take the temperature of what the staff is reading.
How can customers who aren’t local shop your shelves? We’re open 24/7 at ravenbookstore.com!
Be sure to follow The Raven Book Store online on Instagram and Twitter @ravenbookstore.
Danny also has a slew of events coming up to promote How to Protect Bookstores and Why, so be sure to take a look at our events page to see if he’s coming to your town!
Every trip out of the house results in sad looks from strangers about how nobody reads anymore or how the bookstores are all gone. It’s not uncommon for us to tell people about thriving indie bookstores in their own towns and how sales at independents are up with more stores since 2007! This week on the pod, we welcome back Danny Caine to talk about his brand new book How to Protect Bookstores (and Why)!
Order your own copy of How to Protect Bookstores and Why here. (And here are Danny’s other book and zine!)
We are a literary arts non-profit whose mission is storytelling for collective abundance. We believe in the power of storytelling, representation, and expanding models in the literary and publishing communities. Our mission is to promote voices from underserved communities and diverse backgrounds, to honor the stories of those who have faced adversity and injustice, and to provide a sanctuary space where these groups can see themselves in literature.
We host community programming and generally try to demystify the ins and outs of publishing, which is overall an opaque industry that tends towards insularity. Our major programs include: the Editor-Writer Mentorship, [margins.] Literary Conference + Book Festival, #MarginsBookselling (of course), and a host of publishing workshops and community events.
Overall, we love books and reading and the folks who dedicate their lives to the written word, and we believe that access to books and knowledge about careers in publishing (and publishing as a whole) are important.
What is #MarginsBookselling Month?
#MarginsBookselling Month is a celebration of bookstores owned and managed by and for BIPOC, LGBTQIAP2S+, disabled, and neurodiverse communities and of booksellers who identify from these communities as well. This is a community collaboration coordinated by The Word. Booksellers are on the frontline of the industry, and we want to celebrate and uplift them!
It’s a month of spreading joy and awareness of these wonderful stores and booksellers and a way of thanking them for doing the important work they do. There’s more to being a community bookstore than just selling books, and these stores exemplify the extraordinary efforts of bookstores and booksellers actively trying to improve the lives of those in their communities.
You can check out all the bookstores in The Word’s #MarginsBookselling network by checking out the interactive map here.
What inspired it?
Inequity is clearly visible in our industry, from the books being published to the demographics of employees in publishing itself. We recognize that books and bookstores are more than just sales and retail, and we see the power of indie bookstores. Diversely-owned bookstores are especially important to marginalized communities, and also to publishing at large. They can provide a third space and safe space to hold and share stories from BIPOC, LGBTQIA2S+, disabled and neurodiverse communities. Bookstores that center marginalized communities provide both shelter and education.
Likewise booksellers are part of the foundation of this industry. They know what books their community members need and are looking for. Indie bookstore sales matter to their community, and to publishing as a whole. It is booksellers who know what recommendations are relevant to their area and specific customers, and those recommendations can have massive impact, especially for authors that aren’t established, “big” names. Passionate booksellers and bookstores change lives for their customers and for the authors that fill their shelves.
There are not enough spaces where we celebrate this work and take time to learn from it. #MarginsBookselling Month is a chance to shine that spotlight and to give our cohort of bookstores and booksellers a chance to do what each does best, while also getting to know each other in community.
What’s so great about indie bookstores? Why focus on them?
We love bookstore stops on every road trip we take! We cherish open mic nights at our local stores. We can’t resist stopping in for a coffee even if our TBR piles are never-ending and we swore we wouldn’t buy another book today.
Reading is its own sort of magic. Books can be gates, windows, mirrors, doors, escape, comfort. Indie bookstores and booksellers can have a few minutes of conversation with someone and help them find entire new worlds to learn about, to love, or to live in.
Real people will always understand us better than algorithms. And indie bookstores are plugged into the communities they serve in ways that are unmatched by other industry retailers.
What has surprised you the most in the last few years of #MarginsBookselling Month?
It is beautiful to see the members of this community lift each other up and create an atmosphere of abundance where there is room for everyone. In many spaces, retail especially, there is often an enmity toward anything perceived as “competition” –and that has not been present at all in this environment. Everyone is always excited to celebrate each other! It’s definitely become a team of its own, and we love all the love!
How can people get involved and support The Word and #MarginsBookselling Month?
There are numerous ways to be involved:
Support #MarginsBookselling bookstores every month. Learn who they are. Spend some time with them, and see how happy they’ll be to fill your shelves with books you’d never find on your own, and are support systems that can help you find connection and community.
If you don’t have a #MarginsBookselling store near you that you can visit in-person, check out the interactive #MarginsBookselling Map, and support these stores by shopping online, either through their own website or on Bookshop.org. If you’re an audiobook listener, you can support your local or favorite #MarginsBookselling store by choosing them as your supported store on Libro.fm.
Additionally, here are a few great ways to get involved with The Word’s #MarginsBookselling Month:
What are two books you think everyone should read right now?
We love Mariame Kaba–everyone should check out her titles! And, of course, National Book Award and Pulitzer Finalist The Man Who Could Move Clouds by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. Ingrid is a wonderful human who we were thrilled to collaborate with last year’s #MarginsBookselling Month, celebration and said:
“The Word is doing the labor that matters most — uplifting BIPOC booksellers and giving the floor to authors and writers who are writing from the margins. What happens when the margin takes centerstage? I feel a new literature and culture emerges, one that can define and tell of what has gone ignored or untold before. I am so thrilled to be joining The Word’s Writers’ Circle and look forward to supporting their mission.”
We’re grateful to Aida to take the time to answer our questions! If you want to learn more about The Word, their social media handles are:
This is the first installment of the year-long Bookstore Solidarity Project, where we’re featuring indie bookstores and the people that love them. Want to learn more about supporting bookstores in your community? Check out How to Protect Bookstores and Why by Danny Caine!