For May’s bookshop of the month, we paid a visit to News from Nowhere, Liverpool’s radical and community bookshop. Established in 1974 and run by a women’s collective since the early eighties, News from Nowhere is one of the UK’s longest-standing radical bookshops. We spoke to Mandy, one-sixth of the team, about revolutionary book events, Liverpool’s vibrant cultural scene and the sustainability of bookselling…
1. News from Nowhere is run by a women workers’ co-operative. Tell us about that.
We see ourselves as part of the long and noble tradition of workers’ co-operatives whereby the business is owned and run by its workers. We don’t have a boss, we don’t have a hierarchy and we are all involved in decision-making for the bookshop – from what books we stock, to what projects we support, to long-term planning. We like to take it a step further in that all of us are on the same rates of pay – we all work just as hard whether we’ve been with the bookshop for four months, four years or four decades!
When our founder, Bob, left in the early eighties, we decided to become a women’s collective, to provide employment, training and experience for women, in bookselling and running a business. Although we have our differences and disputes, we like to think it’s a very supportive environment to work in, besides which we can further our feminist goals of overthrowing the patriarchy!
2. It’s Karl Marx’s 200th birthday this month – as a radical bookshop, are you doing anything to commemorate this moment?
Absolutely! In fact there are a number of significant anniversaries this year: 50 years since the Paris ’68 May uprising, the assassination of Martin Luther King and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ black power salute at the Mexico Olympics; one hundred years since Nelson Mandela’s birth, and the beginnings of women’s suffrage in the UK; and of course, 200 years since good old Karl was born (though we have heard that if it wasn’t for his daughter, Eleanor, transcribing his writings we would never have had the benefits of his thinking, as his writing was illegible!).
On Friday 18th May Liverpool celebrates Light Night with dozens of organisations staying open late. It’s a fabulous night of culture. The theme this year is Transformations, and we have our own take on it with our event “Revolution: Deeds and Words!”. There will be revolutionary book displays, purple and green refreshments and suffragette rosette-making.
3. On that note, what’s it like to run a radical bookshop in the city of Liverpool?
It’s overwhelmingly positive. The fact that we are one of the longest-surviving radical bookshops in the country cannot be divorced from the fact that we are slap-bang in the centre of Liverpool, one of the most rebellious cities in England. We work very closely with lots of political campaigns and projects, such as Hillsborough Justice, Liverpool Friends of Palestine and Merseyside Peace Network. Whenever we’ve been in difficulties, for instance during the campaign of arson attacks from fascists in the eighties, or unscrupulous landlords in the nineties, the people of Liverpool have rallied round and kept us afloat. So although Liverpool’s been through some very hard times, (and despite the city centre regeneration, there is still severe poverty and deprivation) it’s a city where people really look after each other and grass-roots projects thrive. It’s a very vibrant cultural city too, with many festivals, such as the Writing on the Wall Festival in May and Africa Oye (free African music festival) in June, plus theatres, universities and trades unions who use us for bookstalls and collaborative events.
4. If you could pick one book that everyone should read, which book would it be?
What an impossible question for a bookseller! Well our perennial bestseller is The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, who was buried here in Liverpool in a paupers’ grave. It’s the book everyone lends and never gets back, it’s the book that inspires this city’s working-class identity. I’d also have to mention William Morris’ News from Nowhere of course! It’s still a revolutionary text in my mind, with innovative ideas about education, anti-materialism, self-organisation and beauty… plus a fabulous proposal for the redundant Houses of Parliament – as a store for manure.
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the store that you’d like to share with us?
To be honest, the most exciting plan we have is to be sustainable. In these days of growth at all costs, it behoves those of us who are conscious of our planet to take a step back and look at the value of what we do, and the means by which we do it.
We believe that ‘small is beautiful’. Books will always be a vital tool, for expanding our minds, for envisioning other worlds, for providing us with information and inspiration to overcome injustice and work for a better world, whilst sowing beauty and creativity. The recent revival of feminism amongst young people, and the demand for books that reflect our multi-racial communities, particularly for children, will keep us busy reflecting, promoting and fulfilling those needs and we hope to be doing it for many more years to come.