Local bookstore Book Show forced to relocate, depriving Highland Park of a queer-focused space

Casj, an artist based in San Diego, captivates the audience with her poems at Influx Collectiv’s Queer Poetry Night at Book Show in Los Angeles Oct. 26, 2019. Gwen Berghof/The Occidental

Highland Park’s local bookstoreBook Show, hosted Influx Collectiv’s Queer Poetry Night Oct. 26 featuring poets Royal Rubez, Casj and bení ali ávalos. Influx Collectiv co-founders Cori Bratby-Rudd and Catherine Chen began their Queer Poetry Reading Series with the help of Book Show’s owner Jen Hitchcock. Since then, they have hosted events all over East Los Angeles. However, news posted by Hitchcock on Facebook Oct. 1 saddened members of the reunion, as Book Show will leave Highland Park by the end of the year due to an increase in rent.

Bratby-Rudd said she is disappointed about Book Show’s relocation and that Hitchcock was a big help getting Influx Collectiv off the ground almost a year ago.

“We didn’t know what we were doing at first,” Bratyby-Rudd said. “[Hitchcock] helped us make the Facebook event page and all that kind of stuff. She was just really, really helpful in getting us started.”

After meeting each other during Lambda Literary’s Emerging Writers Retreat in August 2018, Bratby-Rudd and Chen realized there were a lot of queer poets in LA. They then decided to establish Influx Collectiv in November 2018 to provide queer poets with a space to meet and share their love of queer poetry.

“It’s pretty isolating to be a writer, to be honest, cause a lot of us are introverts. We kind of stay — at least for me — in isolation,” Bratby-Rudd said. “So part of the goal for this was to create a queer-specific space so that people could feel comfortable performing for the first time.”

Casj, a performing artist based in San Diego who began writing and performing poetry at age 11, said poetry has always been her way of communicating her feelings and experiences that she was not able to communicate anywhere else. Growing up in Washington, D.C., in a Nigerian and Muslim household, Casj said everything was taboo and she could not even talk to her own cousins about being queer.

“My poetry was my way to have someone — even if it was anyone — just to talk to about my crushes,” Casj said. “And my heartbreaks.”

Casj, an artist based in San Diego, performs her original poetry at Influx Collectiv’s Queer Poetry Night at Book Show in Los Angeles Oct. 26, 2019. Gwen Berghof/The Occidental

Another poet featured at Book Show, Royal Rubez (Ruby Young), is a Compton-based artist and participant in the Los Angeles arts collective. Rubez said they enjoy being able to express the fluidity of their identity through their poetry and that they use poetry to manage hard times.

“I find that acknowledging the trauma and having other people vibe with you on that level provides a sense of release, which in turn allows that trauma to start to disperse,” Rubez said. “The cure to trauma is not to counteract it with positive thinking, but to have people meet you on that level.”

Rubez said spaces like Book Show offer people a safe setting to enjoy themselves and connect with kindred spirits.

“I’m really big on safe spaces emotionally, mentally, spiritually. I like to create safe spaces wherever I go. And I believe that safe spaces are important for the community, especially for the youth,” Rubez said. “We need other people. As humans, we need human interaction. We need to be able to feel safe.”

According to Bratby-Rudd, who identifies as a second-generation queer, Book Show is one of very few queer-owned bookstores, making it an ideal venue for Influx Collectiv’s Queer Poetry Night. Hitchcock said she worked in the music industry for most of her adult life until she was laid off. According to Hitchcock, after receiving her severance, she decided to open Book Show and cater to her love of books and fanzines, as well as to support queer and feminist artists and writers.

What Hitchcock said really sets Book Show apart are the many events, workshops and classes that are held in her space — at least four a week.

“That’s the ‘Show’ part of Book Show,” Hitchcock said.

Up until last August, Hitchcock shared Book Show’s venue with her friend and business partner Madame Pamita, who ran her Parlour of Wonders in the back of the store. According to Hitchcock, however, after already negotiating the terms of the new lease, Madame Pamita decided to move her business into a more industrial space. Hitchcock said after this change, their landlord nullified the agreed-upon lease and implemented a 60-percent increase in rent which Hitchcock would now have to pay on her own.

Royal Rubez, a Compton-based artist, performs their poetry at Influx Collectiv’s Queer Poetry Night at Book Show in Los Angeles Oct. 26, 2019. Gwen Berghof/The Occidental

Casj said she was very sad about Book Show being forced to relocate, making it difficult or impossible for people who found a community and a home there to be able to commute to their new location. According to Casj, people do not realize how harmful gentrification is until they have to experience it, and spaces like Book Show offer more to the community than they are given credit for.

“It’s a place where you go and meet other people who share the same ideas, hobbies or whatever as you do. Places like that, I feel like there needs to be more of,” Casj said. “It’s kind of like the mom-and-pop of bookstores.”

Unable to afford the new rent, Hitchcock said she had to negotiate with her landlord for an extension so Book Show would be able to stay until the end of December. On the bright side, Hitchcock said, this gives her the opportunity to work in the San Fernando Valley, where she lives with her partner and their daughter, and to work with her good friend Sabrina Dropkick, who wants to host workshops and educational programming around queer-focused topics and fat advocacy, among other things.

“Whatever we do together, I think I’ll be even more focused on elevating queer voices, people of color, the marginalized weirdo stuff,” Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock said her plan is to open an online store for Book Show and pop up for events around LA until a permanent space is available in San Fernando Valley. Book Show is open from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m.–8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 11 a.m.–5 p.m. on Sundays until it closes in late December.