It’s not just that I’ve never heard anyone say a critical word about Minneapolis’s Moon Palace Books; it’s that I’ve never heard anyone say anything less than absolutely effusive. This Twin Cities landmark has grown a devoted following of readers, authors, and fellow booksellers by doing exactly what indies do when indies are at their best: connecting with their community, and finding a voice.
Angela and Jamie Schwesnedl founded Moon Palace in 2012, and two moves later their massive, colorful building is a beacon in its neighborhood. At the most basic level, Moon Palace is a kickass bookstore with a deep and interesting inventory. It has a beautiful event space that they fill with great programming. Their café, Geek Love, is delicious. But what makes Moon Palace most beloved—and most deserving of this award—is their community building. They’ve teamed with Milkweed Editions to send books to incarcerated people. They host the Twin Cities Queer Book Club. They’ve provided free meals for people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. They’ve mentored less experienced booksellers. Most inspiringly, to me, they have navigated the challenges of this difficult year with a nearly unimaginable grace.
I think, for me at least, one of the defining feelings of 2020 is staring at Twitter with some combination of disbelief and helplessness. A feeling of seeing unimaginably horrible things, and subsequently feeling like I couldn’t possibly do anything about them. In this state, horrified and angered by the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police, I saw a picture of Moon Palace Books the morning after the first night of the intense protests following George Floyd’s killing. The bookstore stood boarded up but undamaged. Across the plywood, messages like ABOLISH THE POLICE and JUSTICE and LOVE and BLM were painted in bold and colorful letters. The photo brought me to tears. The Third Precinct was an epicenter of the protests, and Moon Palace was right there next to it. And there it was, Moon Palace, defiant and drenched in rainbows, still standing strong.
As the stories came out about Moon Palace’s actions through the protests, I found myself once again in tears. Jamie and Angela gave protestors free pizza. When protestors offered to pay, Jamie told them to donate to George Floyd’s family. When the police tried to set up a staging area in Moon Palace’s parking lot, Jamie forced them away. Some folks believed these actions of solidarity are what led Moon Palace to be spared damage in the protests, but Jamie and Angela weren’t acting to save their business or their building or their books. They were acting for justice. Jamie even told people not to risk themselves protecting the store, saying in the New York Times, “Things that may be lost or damaged in our building are just things, but your life is priceless, just like George Floyd’s life was priceless. Be safe.”
Watching this unfold from afar, aside from making me cry multiple times, made me believe that a bookstore owner does not in fact need to feel helpless, that a bookstore can and should figure out a way to do something. Moon Palace acted—and is acting—how a bookstore should act in turbulent times. This is how a bookstore can be an engine for positive social change. This is how a bookstore can protect and serve its neighborhood. It’s not enough to call this political bookselling, because all bookselling is political. Rather, this is good community-building bookselling. This is bookselling to make the world a better place. This is why it is my honor to present the Midwest Bookseller of the Year award to Moon Palace’s Jamie and Angela Schwesnedl.