Just a stone’s throw away from London’s Kings Cross station is the radical Housmans Bookshop, our Bookshop of the Month for July. Founded following the end of World War II, Housmans’ mission as a bookshop is to promote ideas of peace. We spoke to Co-Manager Nik about his vision for the shop, their impressive array of book groups and this year’s anniversary celebrations…
1. As a radical, not-for-profit bookshop, tell us a little bit more about your bookselling ethos.
Opened in 1945, Housmans was born from the pacifist movement that flourished in the aftermath of the Second World War. The shop’s stock range has greatly expanded over the years, but at its core is the same political mission to promote and make available revolutionary and progressive literature that helps lead us to a better and more just world. All the books we stock, be they fiction, poetry, music, children’s books, art books, or our core politics titles, are chosen to fit that remit.
2. You boast a very impressive and varied events schedule. How important are these events in your vision for the shop?
One of the biggest threats to the radical left is a lack of physical spaces in which to meet, organise and share ideas. Outrageous property prices have had a massive negative impact not just on indie bookshops, but on other alternative social spaces. Housmans’ role as a social space is as important to us as its function as a bookshop. There’s rarely an evening when there isn’t something going on in the building, whether it’s a public talk, a book group or a private organising meeting.
The speakers we host at our book events are often people who might struggle to get a hearing at other more mainstream venues. It’s a great time for radical writing, and we are spoilt for speaker requests. My impression is that ideas that seemed fringe or extreme a few decades ago are becoming increasingly common sense, and the audience for these ideas is growing exponentially. Still a long way to go of course, but despite all the depressing headlines I am somewhat hopeful about current trends.
3. Housmans hosts not just one but four monthly book clubs. How did these diverse groups come about?
Organically! The cross-genre Housmans book group, Fuse, was started by one of our customers, the late Wali Hawes. This group is very autonomous and book choices are made collectively by participants. Subsequent book groups were started by passionate individuals with their own specialist interests. Housmans is very much a space that tries to make itself available to anyone who has a vision in which we can share.
(Learn more about these exciting book groups – The Fuse Book Club, Housmans Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club, Housmans Queer Book Club and Self-care as an act of warfare: A Black women’s reading group – on the Housmans website.)
4. If you could pick one book on your shelves that everyone should read, what would it be and why?
Recommending books is a tricky thing, as so much comes down to the reader’s personal taste, experience and interests. But I won’t dodge the question completely, and would encourage everyone reading this article to check out the two book prizes which Housmans is deeply connected with: The Bread & Roses Award for Radical Publishing and The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award. The books on the shortlists have been through rigorous reading and judging processes and are guaranteed must-reads!
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop that you’d like to share with us?
In November 2019 the building in which Housmans exists, Peace House, will be celebrating its 60th anniversary. Over the years Peace House has been home to countless campaign groups (such as Gay Switchboard, McLibel, Peace News, War Resisters International, Campaign Against Arms Trade and many, many more). We’ve got a range of plans for the anniversary year – including an oral history publication of the building’s history, and we’ll also be organising a campaigning conference to bring together a wide range of activists groups under one roof, with a view to make connections and encourage new people to get involved. On one level that doesn’t sound that book-related, but for us that’s all part of our wider campaigning remit!