Thursday, February 4, 2016

Celebrating a Neighborhood Bookstore: Home at Word Up, a #picturebook by Becky Fullan

This blog has featured writers from all over the world, but today I'm keeping it local. Becky Fullan is a friend and fellow writer who volunteers at Word Up, a wonderful bookstore in NYC. She's also the author of their newest publication, a picture book called Home at Word Up.

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Bookstore as Community
by Becky Fullan

In June of 2011, I discovered Word Up Community Bookshop in my neighborhood of Washington
Heights. It was only intended to exist for a month, as a pop-up bookstore and community arts space in an abandoned storefront. The first event I attended at Word Up, which at the time was hosting multiple events each day, featured a group of teenagers presenting passionate, funny, deeply engaging monologues and dialogues about their experiences living in Washington Heights. It was clear to me very quickly that Word Up was a space that was radically local, practically communal and horizontal in its organization, and rooted in books, words, and the arts. The only thing I hated about it was that it was supposed to go away so soon.

It turned out a lot of other people felt the same way, and so we worked to stay, month after month, for a whole year. Then, when we lost our original space, we continued to meet weekly and launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to open a new, more permanent home. In 2013, we reopened in our current location at 2113 Amsterdam, and we have been selling books, offering manifold events, promoting the work of local authors and artists, and otherwise building and contributing to our neighborhood’s communities ever since.

As part of our Indiegogo campaign, we promised to create a picture book telling a story of this unique space. Every piece of the project was dreamed and created by Word Up volunteers. I came into the process after Mary Ann Wincorkowski had created a basic structure and plan for the story, about a little girl who comes to Word Up and discovers the community and possibilities there. I had an incredibly fun job, which was to find the story in this plan, develop the particular characters of this little girl and her aunt, who cared for her, and shape their quest to find a home and a sense of connection in Washington Heights. This was a joy, particularly in attending deeply to the question of what makes a home, and trying to express that as beautifully and succinctly as possible.

Sandy Jimenez did the art for the book, and seeing his art interpret and delightfully expand the concepts in my writing has been an incredibly rewarding part of this process. My favorite piece of art in the book is the very last page, because of the way that it subtly continues the story and artistically enacts our desire to turn this pop-up shop into something that lasts forever.

Becky Fullan, left, perfecting a display at
Word Up Community Bookshop.  (Photo: Emmanuel Abreu) 
The editing, design, and publishing was also expertly orchestrated by Mary Ann Wincorkowski and Veronica Liu, while a team of translators, Daniella Gitlin, Lucy Gitlin, and Mariel Escalante, rendered my prose into gorgeous Spanish. I tend to write with a lot of poetic, figurative language, even (or perhaps especially) in this concise format, and being able to read this skillful translation, done with loving attention to my words and my meanings, has been an extraordinary pleasure. Working with both a visual artist and the team of translators added layers of artistic collaboration to a process that was fundamentally rooted in collaboration and community expression.

We’ll be having a launch party this Saturday, Feb. 5th, at 2 PM, featuring music by Gio Andollo, a reading of the book, and a discussion of its creation. Here's the event page on Facebook. If you are a long-standing friend of Word Up, or if you have never heard of us or been able to visit before, I would be delighted to welcome you to my home at Word Up.

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You can follow Word Up on Twitter and Facebook.
Learn more about Becky Fullan on her blog

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