The accolades are pouring in from all sides for Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon, co-owners of Chicago's Women & Children First Bookstore. They were named two of the Windy City's 10 most powerful women in the arts by the Chicago Sun-Times last April. A few months later, Christophersen completed a highly productive and successful two-year term as president of the American Booksellers Association. And Mayor Richard Daley proclaimed November 10 to be "Women & Children First Bookstore Day" in Chicago.
Christophersen and Bubon founded Women & Children First in 1979. Despite the steady growth of chain bookstores in the past decade, including the recent opening of a Borders Books & Music nearby, the independent bookstore is thriving, grossing $1 million in revenues last year. It is widely regarded as an institution, the hub of the Andersonville neighborhood.
The duo hosted a gala fund-raiser, attended by more than 250 people, at Chicago's Swedish American Museum on November 20 to celebrate a quarter-century of bookselling.
Women's Voices Fund
The bash officially launched the store's new nonprofit "Women's Voices Fund," which will finance the store's extensive programs.
Women & Children's Women's Voices Fund is a "donor-advised" project of the Crossroads Fund, a nonprofit public foundation that supports organizations working on social and economic justice issues in Chicago. Donors make tax-deductible contributions to the Crossroads Fund, which holds the money in an account controlled by Women & Children First. The funds can be used only for the bookstore's programming activities.
According to Bubon, programming at Women & Children First currently costs up to $50,000 per year. The store regularly hosts from one to three events per week, with guest authors ranging from unknown locals reading from their self-published poetry chapbooks to literary icons like Margaret Atwood and Isabel Allende. Programming also includes such events as a weekly story hour for children on Wednesday mornings and regularly scheduled group discussions, such as the recent, well-attended "The Prison Issue: A Feminist Studies Forum."
"Our mission has always been to promote women writers and women's issues. We don't want to make programming decisions based on what's profitable, so we're establishing Women's Voices, to support and underwrite programming at the store," Bubon told PW.
"We hope the Women's Voices Fund will allow us not to have to ask questions like, 'Will we sell books at this event?' 'How many people will show up?' or 'Will we break even, after accounting for advertising, newsletters, staffing, and all the other costs that go into sponsoring events?' What's important is, 'Is this a woman's voice that should be heard?' And with the Women's Voices Fund, that's the only question we'll be asking ourselves before setting up events," Bubon said.
According to Bubon, the Women & Children's Women's Voices Fund is starting off with $20,000—$30,000, an impressive sum that came from proceeds from ticket sales to the anniversary bash, as well as donations from contributors.
"The design of the party invitations was donated, the printing of the invitations was donated, Windy City Times donated advertising, businesses all over the city donated raffle prizes, restaurants donated food. So, we're able to place most of the proceeds from the bash straight into the fund without having to pay off all sorts of bills first," Bubon said.
The November 20 festivities featured food, music and dancing. In keeping with the store's mission of bringing women books that may change their lives, there was also a silent auction of memorabilia from several dozen of the hundreds of feminist authors who have appeared at the store over the years.
Some funky items up for bidding included a pound of coffee from Julia Alvarez's farm in the Dominican Republic; a "Magic Poetry Book," a blank journal with handwritten notes and doodles from Nikki Giovanni; and red Bruno Magli pumps, supposedly worn by fictional detective V.I. Warshawski, donated by Sara Paretsky. (Bubon suspects Kathleen Turner may have actually worn the shoes in the movie, V.I. Warshawski.) Even Hillary Clinton donated a few signed copies of Living History to the auction.
Authors did more than donate items. Regional literati were at the party in full force. Jane Hamilton tended bar, while other writers living in the region —- like Ana Castillo and Achy Obejas—mixed and mingled with fellow celebrants.
"It was the best party I've ever been to—and that's saying a lot," Bubon told PW. "It was a total love fest. Imagine 250 people in a room, you know them all, they all love you, the food is great, the music is amazing. I am still flying, two days later. My girlfriend read the proclamation from the mayor, and at every point in the proclamation, she would pause, and people just cheered wildly. Ann and I had to really try to keep from blubbering. It was all very touching. We felt so loved. And the local media, from the Chicago Tribune on down, all showed up with camera crews. It was quite the event."