Charis: 35 years of community and books

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imageThere’s a sense of history when you walk into Charis Books & More. And with good reason. The little lesbian-feminist bookstore that could celebrates 35 years with events Wednesday through Saturday.

Some of you haven’t even been around that long. Others know a lot of water has passed under the bridge since 1974, when a 26 year-old Linda Bryant envisioned a lesbian-owned place for women who love literature, politics and community to gather in a safe, welcoming space.

Homey, even. There’s just something about the little Charis house in Little Five Points that’s as comfortable as walking into your grandmother’s living room and knowing that whatever you need, these ladies will make you comfortable.

Not that they haven’t had their struggles. Charis faced extinction in 2005 due to decreased sales in an dot-com dominated world. That crisis was averted when the store’s extremely loyal patrons chipped in to save the day after a public call for support.

That’s the spirit that keeps Charis alive for future generations of women. Again, customers couldn’t let a place that felt like home falter.

The bookstore is also home to Charis Circle, its non-profit arm that hosts monthly programming for women writers and literature lovers. The original concept for the bookstore was as a non-profit, and Charis Circle fulfills that part of the Bryant’s original dream.

The programming not only includes workshops and social gatherings, but it also fosters queer and female authors and artists with a regular lineup of guest readings and performances. They helped kick-start the careers of Indigo Girls and Pearl Cleage, who were customers before they were a smash-hit band and best-selling author. They also welcomed Alice Walker before she was the monumental icon who wrote “The Color Purple.”

More recently, lesbian erotica writer Fiona Zedde made a breakthrough into literary success just a few short years after working behind the counter of the store.

Charis’ connection to its writers shines during its four-day birthday celebration. Some 10 authors return to help Charis kick things off as hosts on the first night of the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival on Wednesday. Look for readings by Lisa Allender (emcee), Malika, Krystal Tift, Alice Teeter, Louisa Merchant, Maudelle Driskell, Sincere, Ken J. Martin, Charlene Ball and Libby Ware.

On Thursday, Charis sponsors a discussion with two of its favorite past guests, the iconic Gloria Steinem and Beverly Guy Sheftall. “Founding the Future” takes place at Georgia Tech.

The big-name supporters of the’ 35th anniversary shindig don’t stop there. Friday is another big day in the life of Charis. Locals who made it big host “Artists & Revolutionaries: The Transformative Power of Music and Words.” The event features Indigo Girls, Alice Walker and Pearl Cleage.

Saturday and Sunday see the annual Birthday Book Sale and Author Signings. Look to meet writers Kathryn Stockett, Karin Slaughter, Hollis Gillespie, Jane Vollbrecht, Fiona Zedde, Sheri Joseph, Susan Rebecca White, Catherine Lundoff, Diana Cage, Amanda Gable, Debra Mazer, Sheila Moses, Laura Weakley, Dillon Watson, and Lara Zielinsky.

In the end, it looks like this scrappy little ’70s hippie venture got the best of both worlds. Take an authentic desire for community that makes patrons feel at home, and they keep coming back to support you.

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