THE SHOREDITCH BOOKSHOP THAT’S CELEBRATING THE QUEER COMMUNITY
Words by Christina Dean
The number of LGBTQ+ venues in the capital has been on the decline over the past decade, something that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic, so when a dedicated queer space opens rather than closes its doors, it’s a big deal.
Creative hub Glass House, made up of bar and restaurant Common Counter, events space The Commons, and bookshop The Common Press, opened on the corner of Brick Lane and Bethnal Green Road in 2021.
The bar celebrates queer culture and history through the cocktails on offer – one is dedicated to iconic drag queen Divine, another is inspired by the 1901 raid on a Mexico City house where a secret drag ball was being held that led to the arrest of 41 men, an incident which has now been reclaimed as a defining moment in Mexican queer culture – as well as stocking sustainable wine and beers from The Queer Brewing Project. Between them, the bar and the events space host everything from film screenings and yoga classes to drag shows and sexual health testing sessions.
The Common Press is a queer, intersectional bookshop and cafe, managed by a team including Angie Curzi, which is “designed to offer marginalised communities a safe space where they can create, connect, and thrive both personally and creatively.” The bookshop is a celebration of the arts and of queer, BIPOC and marginalised folk, and as Angie says, “our book list is heavily curated to reflect this vision, and our selection includes over 1500 titles that span everything from trans-inclusive feminism, politics, ecocriticism, essays, queer history, fiction, memoirs, graphic novels, poetry, plays, sci-fi and fantasy, YA, children’s, you name it we got it!”
As well as working closely with independent presses and publishing houses to select what gets stocked in the shop, Angie draws on the diversity of the wider staff and their different experiences and expertise to find and recommend titles to sell. “The most important thing is that what we decide to stock in the bookshop is part of the kind of ethos that permeates the entire space because we are entirely queer run. Everything that we do from our books, our suppliers, our staff, our policies, is to celebrate our community,” they say.
As you’d imagine, Angie has many faves amongst the books in store but there are some titles they’re keen to spotlight, including Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon; 100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell from queer-run and local indie press Cipher Press; The Sun Isn’t Out Long Enough, an anthology of poetry by queer immigrant authors from Anamot Press; Fabulosa! The Story of Polari, Britain’s Secret Gay Language by Paul Baker; Africa Is Not A Country: Breaking Stereotypes of Modern Africa by Dipo Faloyin; Sterling Karat Gold by Isabel Waidner from indie press Peninsula Press, “which looks at how race, gender, identity and sexual orientation interact with the justice system but in a very surreal way and it also features a non-binary protagonist”; Mask Off: Masculinity Redefined by JJ Bola from Pluto Press, “a non-fiction work about redefining masculinity through the point of view of a queer author of colour, and it really deconstructs our social understanding of masculinity and build something new”; and Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton because “there can be a hyperfocus on white people but trans people of colour have contributed a lot to trans history and it’s very important for us to spotlight their presence and make sure they’re celebrated.” You can see even more reading recs on the shop’s Bookshop.org page here.
In addition to being a queer-friendly space that doesn’t centre around alcohol, something that is distinctly lacking in London, The Common Press fulfils an important function because “LGBTQ+ bookshops are repositories of histories. It’s important that independent businesses like ours continue to thrive up and down the country in order to keep our history alive, celebrate it, and educate those who may not know of it,” explains Angie. “It is through small indies like us that we can truly celebrate the diversity and intersectionality of the communities that exist under the larger “queer” umbrella, ensuring that no one is left unseen or forgotten.”
Like many small businesses, The Common Press relies on its community to keep it going and though it’s only been open a short time, the impact the bookshop has made and the support it has received has been extraordinary, from going viral on TikTok to having authors like Torrey Peters, Olivia Laing and Shon Faye drop in and do book signings to having the owner of a historical queer library in Spain flying in to meet the team. “One of the very beautiful things that happens here on a daily basis is people coming in and saying ‘I’m so glad that you guys are here’,” says Angie. “It just warms my heart because we need more spaces for the community and I’m so glad that people from all age groups are finding a safe space where they can connect with other people and uplift each other, a place where they feel seen, they feel safe, they feel represented and most importantly where they feel celebrated in everything and anything that they are.”
Working on more in-house events like themed nights, queer writing circles and book clubs to complement the book launches that The Common Press hosts and to provide even more choice for people is one of Angie’s priorities, as is building relationships with other queer businesses and exploring ways to collaborate. “Uli, one of the managers of Gay’s The Word, used a very beautiful metaphor to describe this, to create an ecosystem of queer independent businesses and creators, and I thought that was really beautiful because an ecosystem is self-sustaining, we rely on each other, it works together. It’s really one of my missions to involve more and more people and create more bridges between us so we can all support each other,” they say.
And on that theme, there are some more places Angie wants to shout out, including “Gay’s the Word, they are the very first queer bookshops, respectively, to have ever been set up in London and the UK, and the work they have done for the community is something we admire and celebrate. New Beacon Books, their work was pivotal to the history of post-war Black presence in British society, and despite facing challenges during the pandemic, it continues to thrive at the heart of the communities that shaped it. Jacaranda Books, Dialogue Books, Knights Of, Muswell Press, and Cipher Press, these queer- and/or Black-owned publishers work tirelessly to support and uplift voices from marginalised communities; we are so proud to be stocking their titles and to be collaborating with them for book events of all kinds! And Victory Distillery, an excellent London-based distillery who are making a real effort to be carbon-neutral!”
Local Heroes is a series where we big up the people, small businesses and neighbourhood spots that make London great, you can see more from our series here.
118 Bethnal Green Rd, London E2 6DG