Monday, November 19, 2007


In the summer of 1976, I lived in Denton, Texas, but I got a monthly newsletter from the Austin Lesbian Organization. Austin lesbians were known to be among the most radical in the country at that time, and the only women's bookstore between Atlanta, Georgia and Tempe, Arizona was in Austin. It was called Common Woman Books then, after the series of Common Woman poems by Judy Grahn -- "The common woman is as common / as a common loaf of bread / and will rise."

I'd read about an album of music written by women for women called Lavendar Jane Loves Women, by Alix Dobkin. I wanted to know what women's music might sound like. The only hope I had of getting my hands on that album was in Austin.

(Lavendar Jane Loves Women album by Alix Dobkin)

So one blazing Saturday I drove five hours down from Denton in my 1966 Pontiac LeMans, which had no air conditioning, and managed to find the bookstore on Guadalupe, two rooms over a haircut store. But once parked on the Drag, I faced the prospect of walking from my car to the stairs that led up to Common Woman Books. For a space of a few feet, I would be out in the open, visibly walking toward the entrance of the only known lesbian business in all of Texas. If you weren't a dyke alive then, I don't think you can really know the courage it took to be publicly out. Being a visible lesbian meant risking your life, maybe not in every circumstance but you never knew when the circumstances would be against you. As Alix Dobkin wrote in one of her songs, we "pacify the people for they won't defend a woman who's indifferent to men".

(Logo from the original Common Woman Books, with a line from a Judy Grahn poem)

I was 19, and I had to sit in my sweltering car for over an hour before I found the courage to leave its anonymity and cross that sidewalk to the bookstore. I was soaked through, but it was not just the summer heat. I got my album, and it literally changed my life -- every path I've chosen since was influenced by the information on that album. I've gone on being brave. It gets easier. And when I moved back to Texas in 1989 from San Francisco, it was Austin I settled in -- because that bookstore was still here, renamed BookWoman.

Now BookWoman is in dire trouble. I got the following e-mail yesterday:

(Susan Post, surviving owner of BookWoman, June 2001)

Dear Supporters of BookWoman:

As you know, BookWoman is on a turnaround campaign to keep the doors open and also looking to move to a less expensive space after the first of the year. In the couple of weeks we've been fundraising, the response has been tremendous -- there's been about $10,000 in cash/checks/credit card donations come in-house, and sales have increased by 33%.

That's the good news. Women have come in the store almost in tears at the prospect of the store closing -- so, we've got to find a way to make sure the store stays open -- it's too valuable a women's community resource, for all women and their allies, to shut down. And, we have to make sure that we not only shop now, but also keep shopping after the first of the year, to sustain the store. There is a small committee meeting to work on a long-term sustainability plan, but first things first -- we must raise the capital to pay off the old debt.

Every small or large contribution makes a difference -- there's a website, Save BookWoman where people can donate online. Please send this out to your friends and family and request they make a contribution. Bring out-of-town friends into the store to shop. Send the request to feminists and their supporters you know outside Texas who want to support one of the last 13 remaining feminist, independent-owned and operated bookstores in existence in the US.

The silent auction is up in the store and bids are being accepted. We've got a few events scheduled you can see on the website, including a fabulous event on Sunday, November 18th, "Books We Love" -- be sure and check it out! At least one house concert has been scheduled for December and we're working on a "Turning The Tables" type of event, also for December. More are in the works and we'll keep you posted.

Working together, we can make this happen.

To all of you who are reading this -- I request you take one action right now that will support us in moving the project forward.

Debbie Winegarten
Be a BookWoman!
918 West 12th Street
Austin Texas 78703
Texas' only feminist bookstore, serving the women's community for 30 years.

You can place orders with them through their website at BookWoman or call them at 512 472-2785 to order in person.

And, as a treat, here's one of the Common Woman poems by Judy Grahn:

(Judy Grahn)


She’s a copperheaded waitress,
tired and sharp-worded, she hides
her bad brown tooth behind a wicked
smile, and flicks her ass
out of habit, to fend off the pass
that passes for affection.
She keeps her mind the way men
keep a knife—keen to strip the game
down to her size. She has a thin spine,
swallows her eggs cold, and tells lies.
She slaps a wet rag at the truck drivers
if they should complain. She understands
the necessity for pain, turns away
the smaller tips, out of pride, and
keeps a flask under the counter. Once,
she shot a lover who misused her child.
Before she got out of jail, the courts had pounced
and given the child away. Like some isolated lake,
her flat blue eyes take care of their own stark
bottoms. Her hands are nervous, curled, ready to scrape.
The common woman is as common
as a rattlesnake.

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