Though the highest number of LGBTQ+ people reside in the south, the same area suffers the most due to a lack of resources and representation. Realizing this is a problem, Jaime Harker set up a Kickstarter campaign to fund a small bookstore in Water Valley, Mississippi. Only four days later, the shop was fully funded. “It’s important to have spaces that aren’t just in university towns or big urban centers,” Jaime says in the campaign. “Because queer people are everywhere. Queer youth are everywhere.”
Violet Valley Bookstore, the “queer feminist and trans-inclusive” shop opened its doors in Dec. 2017. Rural Mississippi residents have since adored the space, with the shop owner claiming to have been “overwhelmed with support” at its opening. It remains to be the only LGBTQ+ feminist bookstore in the entire state, and it was funded by not only the LGBTQ+ of the state but those all over who want to help grow roots of inclusivity in the south. After 106 backers got behind this mission, a new LGBTQ+ feminist bookstore was born in Mississippi.
Violet Valley Bookstore
This bookstore is intimately-run, with only two people on staff. One, creator and owner Jaime Harker, also works in another full-time position alongside being a feminist bookseller. This leaves only Sundays to run the shop, though you can submit a request on their website to visit on another day.
This quaint bookshop packs a mighty punch. Its interior is filled with feminist books for all ages. Novels (such as the beloved Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flag) and even cookbooks ( Cooking In Boxers by Mark Anthony Bailey) line bookshelves that look homemade. The children’s book section is also impressively stocked with inclusive tales and vibrant illustrations, some going for as little as $1. “I really want a bookstore where any kid who has a dollar can find a book that he or she wants to take home.” Jaime Hacker explains.
As you walk through the store, you may find yourself swaying to the ’70s music playlist. The decore trades in elegant and shy for campy and extravagant, leaving more than books to look at. You are practically embraced by those books in this narrow building that was once an alleyway. The pride flag you would expect hangs proudly from the wall and is guarded by an alien sculpture dressed in American flag apparel. Seeing the two flags mixing is impactful, and a seemingly fun mix of symbols joins to represent the unity that is truly meant for all.
On what inspired such a niche idea as the only LGBTQ+ bookshop in this southern state, Jaime says that her research on the ‘Women in Print’ movement inspired both her book (The Lesbian South) and the shop itself. It seems that those original southern feminists’ work wasn’t entirely done, yet.
Though the United States Constitution demands a separation of church and state, that doesn’t seem to apply to The Bible Belt, which spans a wide range of southern states, one of which being Mississippi. This allows for homophobic laws to be passed, such as Florida’s House Bill 1557, which puts an age minimum of when public schools can teach students about gender and sexuality. Instead of inclusive education, Mississippi sex ed law requires that teachers only teach current state law related to sexual conduct, PBS reports, and lists “homosexuality” alongside sensitive topics, such as “forcible rape, and statutory rape.”
Mississippi Today reports that the state’s LGBTQ+ community wants to stay in its home state but feels a lack of community and a lack of resources. This is a problem that Violet Valley Bookstore directly aims to solve, and with its local and worldwide support, it won’t be the last of its kind. The successful crowd-funding for this shop is direct proof that people are willing to make the change they want to see, whether that is through finances, book donations, or actions. Nothing stops the forward momentum of change once belief and hope are sparked.
Jaime Hackner shares her take on queerness and how it relates to the south:
“Queer sexuality, then, refers to any “nonnormative” sexuality — anything that falls outside of reproductive sex between two married partners. The Southern Gothic, by this definition, has always been queer, because it describes characters and situations that fall well outside the mainstream and has always had shadowy inklings of queer sexuality. What Southern lesbian feminists did was make those intimations explicit and embrace queer sexuality in an open, defiant, flamboyant way.”–Jaime Hackner
Why LGBTQ+ Spaces Are Important in the South
According to the Census Bureau, the South has the largest concentration of LGBTQ+ people in the country. Stores like Violet Valley are most vital in rural areas, as even with its number of LGBTQ+ people, it lacks representation and resources the most. “Queer kids in small rural Mississippi can come to a place that has a safe spot to explore who they are and find books that help them,” Jaime says on the Kickstarter campaign that made this dream come true. Not only does LGBTQ+ literature help those in the community, but it also helps to make LGBTQ+ stories normalized in societies that may otherwise categorize them as “other”, which is too often translated as “weird”. Queer novels, after all, are heartful human stories like any other. These stories are for everyone.
In the last few years, the most banned books in America have been books about LGBTQ+ people and people of color, according to the American Library Association. Humanities’ long history of book banning (and book burning) relays a common theme of discrimination, manipulation, and control that is still obviously prevalent today. In this way, reading and writing, especially minority stories, counts as an act of revolution and rebellion.
Attempts at silencing the southern LGBTQ+ community will not work as long as spaces like Violet Valley Bookstore continue to exist, spreading throughout the state like dandelion seeds about to grant somebodies wish.
You can visit and support Violet Valley Bookstore at 303 N Main St Water Valley, Mississippi 38965