Tuesday, December 23, 2014

In Other Words: Portland's Feminist Bookstore

You've seen the popular "Portlandia" sketches featuring Women and Women First, the feminist bookstore that a random assortment of people wander into and encounter Toni (Carrie Brownstein) and Candace (Fred Armisen), the unsmiling owners who deliver their own brand of usually unhelpful customer service.
Toni and Candace of Women and Women First feminist bookstore on IFC's "Portlandia."
Image by IFC via www.fastcocreate.com

What many viewers of "Portlandia" may not realize is that Women and Women First is an actual bookstore in Portland, although "Women and Women First" is not the store's real name. Its real name is In Other Words, and it's been serving as a bookstore, meeting place, and more for Portland, Oregon's feminist community since 1993. Shortly after I moved to Portland, I decided to stop by for a visit.
In Other Words Feminist Community Center.
Photo by Gina Murrell

In Other Words is located at 14 NE Killingsworth Street in North Portland. Because I was coming from a different part of the city, and because I was relying on public transportation, I found the bookstore slightly inconvenient to get to. The nearest station is the N. Killingsworth Street stop on the MAX (light rail) Yellow Line. From the station, you walk three blocks, cross an overpass, and then walk another 13 to 14 blocks to reach the bookstore. However, I should say that if you have time to spare, it's better to wait for the number 72 bus on N. Killingsworth, just across the street from the MAX station; the bus goes past In Other Words.

Arriving at In Other Words, I smiled at seeing the facade that should be familiar to all viewers of "Portlandia." It was a beautiful and warm fall afternoon, and the late-day sun reflected brightly off of the bookstore's many shiny windows. Painted prominently on the larger windows was the rallying cry "All Women Unite!" and a trio of women's symbols, each symbol containing a raised, clenched fist.
The view of In Other Words from the front entrance.
Photo by Gina Murrell

Walking through the front door, I was immediately struck by how bright and spacious In Other Words is. I also quickly realized that In Other Words is much, much more than a bookstore. To the immediate left of the front entrance is a long table that is set up for arts and crafts activities; indeed, next to the table are stackable bins brimming with craft supplies. And next to the crafts table is a Kids' Corner, complete with a shelf full of brightly colored toys and a big, fluffy, stuffed toy bear propped on a short chair. So, in addition to being a bookstore, In Other Words is also a crafting space and a place that small children can enjoy.
A prominent display of books "hot off the press."
Photo by Gina Murrell

Also just inside the door is a tall display of books advertised, by a hand-drawn sign, as being "Hot Off the Press." On the top tier of the display are all products tied in to the "Portlandia" TV show: The Portlandia Activity Book (with a bird on the front) by Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein and Jonathan Krisel; the Portlandia Season One DVD; and Portlandia: A Guide for Visitors by Armisen and Brownstein. I really can't fault In Other Words for capitalizing on the Portlandia connection; I'm sure many people outside of Portland wouldn't know about the feminist center if it weren't for the top-rated IFC show. I even had one friend ask me, after I said I had visited In Other Words, "Is that a real bookstore?!?" So if I were the owners of In Other Words, I would totally play up that connection if it meant further boosting my profile and bringing in more customers.
An impressive selection of zines at In Other Words.
Photo by Gina Murrell

Just beyond the display of books "Hot Off the Press" is shelving that holds row upon row of zines. Being a fan of zines, I moved in for a closer look. I was happy to see zines by women of color and also zines I had never seen before. Especially impressive to me was the inclusion of OP: Original Plumbing, which has the tagline "Trans Male Quarterly." Flipping through it, I was amazed at how far the conversation about and the representation of trans people have come in the past twenty years. It was refreshing to see the self-representation of trans males in its pages, and it was also revolutionary (and admittedly, titillating) to see trans male centerfolds offered up for the OP reader's gaze.

Walking away from the zines, I noticed - artfully arranged on brightly painted, stand-alone displays - jewelry, buttons, trinkets, balms, and more produced by local artisans. So not only is In Other Words a crafting center, a place for kids, a bookstore, and a zine store; it is also a boutique. I saw an impressively extensive selection of unique, carefully made pieces, including delicate earrings and long necklaces, that would make perfect gifts. If you're looking for a one-of-a-kind gift for a significant other, or if you're shopping for a lovely little something for yourself, I'd recommend checking out In Other Words' boutique-quality offerings.

Earrings and other unique gift items for sale at In Other Words.
Photo by Gina Murrell

After much browsing, I finally made my way toward the back of In Other Words, where the bulk of the books are. Signs just above the rear half of the space point toward a bookstore on the left and a lending library on the right.
In Other Words' vast lending library.
Photo by Gina Murrell

Yes, In Other Words, in addition to being a crafting center, a place for kids, a zine store, a boutique, and a bookstore, is also a lending library. Talking about the lending library, In Other Words says on its website:

"[We have made] literature accessible though the creation of a free lending library. Our library is a free resource that enables everyone to find radical books and zines and enables us to further our mission of supporting education. In times of economic hardship, libraries are crucial institutions to ensuring access to literature, and a library that is specialized is even more of an asset because it ensures that those materials include work from and for underrepresented and marginalized groups. You can see what books have in our collection online on our Library Thing page, or come in anytime we are open to browse our shelves and check out books."

According to a sign on one of the shelves of the lending library, patrons "can check out three or fewer items at a time for up to three weeks. If they are returned overdue, expect a small late fee. Due date reminders arrive via email. Patrons can renew items over the phone or in person. After hours, items can be returned through the mail slot in our front door."

The area of In Other Words that contains the lending library and the bookstore section also has a welcoming setup of soft-looking purple couches and other seating available for those who would like to sit and read a while.
A cozy setup for readers at In Other Words.
Photo by Gina Murrell

In the far rear, left-hand corner of In Other Words is a feminist archives, which to me was an amazing discovery. In Other Words' website makes little mention of the archives, and I believe if you hadn't visited the store (and wandered to the back), you would never know that the feminist archives was there. Granted, it's a small collection, but I still think it's noteworthy.
The Feminist Archives, accessible to all, at In Other Words.
Photo by Gina Murrell

Items in the archives are kept in a tall metal filing cabinet, and hanging above the cabinet is a row of T-shirts that appear to be relics of the Second Wave feminist movement. Placed above the T-shirts is a hand-painted banner that designates that corner of the center as the "Feminist Archives." A sign on the filing cabinet encourages visitors to "Browse Our Archives." The sign further says:

"In Other Words' archives were donated by a local feminist and PSU professor. After sitting in storage for years, they are finally available for public use. Please feel free to look through any items you'd like; we just ask that you handle with care. A listing of the collection's contents is located in the top drawer. Contents are cataloged by file drawer and folder. Please take a place holder to mark the place of any items you remove. Archive items cannot leave In Other Words. Enjoy!"

Crafting center. A place for kids. Zine store. Boutique. Bookstore. Lending library. Feminist archives. What else could In Other Words be? How about an art gallery? Adjacent to the feminist archives is wall space dedicated to the display of artwork. Local artists can show their work here.
In Other Words is also a gallery space for local artists.
Photo by Gina Murrell

It should also be noted that a pull-down projection screen is mounted on the wall above where the art is displayed. In Other Words hosts film screenings as well. In the past year, In Other Words has shown the 2013 documentary "After Tiller," which focuses on the current climate of abortion access in the U.S., and the 2013 documentary "Guarda Bosques" ("Forest Keepers"), about an indigenous community of hunter-gatherers in the Ugandan rainforests who fight to protect their way of life. In Other Words has also partnered with Clinton Street Theater for film events titled "reel feminism!" that are followed by panel discussions.

I was still browsing In Other Words as the feminist community space was closing for the day. Its regular hours are noon to 7pm Tuesday through Saturday; it's closed on Sundays and Mondays. As I walked to the front of the store to pay for my handful of items, I saw three young women behind the counter. One was obviously a new volunteer - In Other Words is almost entirely run by volunteers - and she was being instructed on how to ring up purchases. Among my first jobs were cashier positions, so I sympathized and was smiley and chatty with all three as I patiently waited for the newbie to carry out the transaction. All three volunteers at In Other Words that day were extremely pleasant and easy to talk to, and they seemed to genuinely appreciate my business. I'll definitely return.
Looking out at N. Killingsworth Street from the front windows of In Other Words.
Photo by Gina Murrell

If you're lucky enough to live near In Other Words, I hope you are a regular customer and familiar supporter of this feminist community space. If, like me, you aren't within short traveling distance, I still encourage you to visit; it's more than worth the trip. And if you're arriving from out of town and are a fan of "Portlandia" who's curious about where the "Women and Women First" skits are filmed, by all means drop by and buy something with a bird on it and other great items that In Other Words has. Support feminist spaces! Support In Other Words!

Follow In Other Words on Twitter at THIS LINK and on Facebook at THIS LINK.

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