What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
We’d love to see more books exploring queerness in relation to other marginalized social positions. We very much hope that we’ll see a shift in the larger LGBT culture away from assimilation to the dominant culture. Of course, these books already exist, but we’d love to see more evidence of queers joining in larger struggles for a more just and compassionate society for all people everywhere. Queers are defined by our marginality in terms of our sexualities and genders, and making common cause with other populations who are defined by their marginality is not only morally right, it’s strategically logical.
How is your store working with self-published writers?
We often get approached by self-published authors who want us to carry their books and/or do a reading at the Bureau. We’re quite busy organizing events and art exhibitions and keeping on top of ordering books, magazines, and zines, and we’ve often found that self-published authors ask a lot of us in terms of time and energy without understanding who we are or how we work. Many self-published authors who have had events with us disappear afterwards.
Of course, we’ve also had some lovely experiences with self-published authors who do understand our work. Rami Shamir comes to mind. He only sells his novel, Train to Pokipse, through independent bookstores. It is not available on Amazon, and Rami does a great job of sending people our way.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
Queer bookstores are an endangered subspecies of the endangered species that is the independent bookstore. We started this project in response to the closings of A Different Light (2001) and Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop (2009). In addition to The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (the Bureau’s current home), these bookstores were central to NYC’s LGBT communities for decades. We’re very glad that The Center continues the important work that it began in 1983, but the losses of both Oscar Wilde (which opened in 1967) and A Different Light (which opened in 1983) were tremendous blows not only to local queers, but also to the many queers visiting the city from all over the world.
Internet resources and social media have taken on some of the roles that these bookstores used to perform, but the nurturing of community, the fostering of relationships in real time and space is not something that websites and social media can do without having a physical location to which they can direct people.
Our primary function is to provide local and visiting queers with a platform to use for the benefit of our various communities. It is a physical place that welcomes queers and allies to share our works and ideas, celebrate ourselves and our accomplishments, nurture ourselves, encourage and critique one another, debate ideas, and enjoy each other’s company.
Books are certainly an important part of the project, but given how little money we make from book sales, we know that we need to find other ways to sustain this project financially.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Most people engage the Bureau as a community space for events, performances, and art exhibitions. Many of the events we host are directly related to books, but the percentage of attendees who buy books is generally not very high. We are glad that people are attending these events and engaging the authors and the writing, along with other people at the Bureau. But if we only saw these events in terms of sales, we would be disappointed much of the time. We founded the Bureau primarily as a queer community space with a bookstore, and that’s just what it is.
Greg Newton earned his BA at Hunter College, majoring in religion and minoring in art history. He completed his coursework and examinations for a Ph.D. in art history at the City University of New York Graduate Center before leaving academia to co-found the Bureau of General Services—Queer Division with his partner Donnie Jochum, a queer cultural center, bookstore, and event space hosted by The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City. He taught art history and writing at Parsons for eight years while working on his dissertation on monochrome painting..
Donnie Jochum works as an employee educator for Nike in addition to managingthe Bureau of General Services—Queer Division with Greg Newton. He has a bachelor’s degree in literature from the University of New Orleans.