Responses to CityPaper Article About D.C. Bookstore

The Washington City Paper published “Politics and Prose’s Social Network: How much is a beloved bookstore really worth?” about Politics and Prose Bookstore after the death of co-founder and owner Carla Cohen. Most of the article was about the important role that Politics and Prose has played in the political, social, and literary community of D.C. and the concern about sustaining that future. Having great respect for Politics and Prose and co-founders Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade, we shared those sentiments. The article went on to compare Politics and Prose to the bookstore Teaching for Change operates at Busboys and Poets. The comparison included a number of negative and erroneous comments which generated responses from customers, authors, and colleagues.

Here are some of the comments to the article that were posted online at the City Paper website (three were also run in the print edition the following week):

  • Like many in the Washington literary community, I mourn Carla Cohen’s passing, and before that, worried about the news that Politics & Prose was on the block. I’m glad for the hopeful information in this article that promises a strong future for this amazing independent bookstore — a stellar model of success in an industry where success is lately hard to find. But I’m disturbed by the many errors here about another superlative literary venue in our city, Busboys & Poets Bookstore, operated by Teaching for Change. Nowhere in Washington can you find such a dedicated collection of great (and diverse) world literature and important and timely books on government, social justice, education and international issues. For me it’s as equal a destination for good reading for all ages as Politics & Prose, and its events (free) and authors have as much cachet as the uptown institution. Because the shelf space is indeed limited, the helpful staff is more than willing to order any book for you, though the selection is so thoughtful I often will find a vital book I didn’t even know I needed. The event space is exceptional, and the open mic nights (also free) are an important community and arts effort that platforms many writers and poets whose work doesn’t have big publisher backing. I cherish both establishments, and wish this article had described the smaller store more fairly. Thank you. – Eugenia Kim, author of The Calligrapher’s Daughter
  • Politics and Prose is a wonderful bookstore no doubt, but to argue that the Teaching for Change bookstore in Busboys and Poets on 14th and V is like a kiosk is outrageous. Not only does Busboys have the best poetry collection anywhere in the city, it has become the place to get books on politics, on progressive movements, on diversity. One of the failures to adapt to a digital culture is to feel that to praise one entity requires the diminishing of another. The two stores serve both represent the eclectic and ambitious possibilities of the city. Unfortunately, they also represent the real threat of places like this only appealing to a certain class of people. One thing I admire about Busboys is the consistent ability to pack the house, for often unheard of poets, at the Nine on the Ninth Events. This reading series, run by their Poet-in-Residence Derrick Weston Brown is free — and brings a wildly diverse mix of people in one room once a month to listen to poetry. I’ve benefitted from reading there — and know any poet who has would never complain about audience. –R. Dwayne Betts, author of A Question of Freedom
  • While I think P&P is great, Teaching for Change’s Bookstore at Busboys and Poets is an incredible place. I was first introduced to Teaching for Change and Busboys and Poets by my graduate college professor at Trinity College where I was working toward a degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus in Reading. Once I experienced the large selection of multicultural titles, I was hooked. The Teaching for Change Bookstore at Busboys and Poets is a great source for children’s literature that speaks to a variety of audiences from early emergent readers to adults. The high-quality literature selection encourages children and adults to actively engage in a wide variety of genre and create meaningful connections to themes, characters, and ideas. I appreciate the collection of rich and authentic literature as well as the free author events. – Mischa Dorr-Ames, Reading Specialist, PGCPS
  • Count me as another person who doesn’t see why the writer here needs to slam one independent bookstore in order to praise another. I absolutely treasure the bookstore at Busboys. The workers at Busboys are incredibly knowledgeable about a dizzying array of books. I remember telling the store manager Don Allen that I was into detective noir and his response, “Have you ever read one set in Laos?” speaks for itself. At both Busboys and P&P, there is a strong sense of community, conversation, and titles well-beyond the norm. The fact that Busboys and Poets Bookstore is run by Teaching for Change, only adds to its sense of mission and makes it a truly special place. Of course Busboys is 1/10 the size of P and P. But a brilliant restaurant with just four tables is a detail, not a determining feature. Busboys is a brilliant bookstore and if you don’t believe me, see for yourself. – Dave Zirin, author and columnist, EdgeofSports.com
  • Both Busboys and Poets and Politics and Prose are unique, independent gems of DC. They have different vibes but both merit respect for what they provide: an intellectually stimulating environment in which race, politics and culture are created and debated. Most of the B&P and P&P events I attend attract a knowledgeable crowd who enjoy an interesting conversation about what they read. While a few events at B&P might require a cover, the vast majority is free and provide access to beer or a glass of wine. In the debate over the pros and cons between B&P and P&P, let’s not forget the other independent bookstores around the city, such as Reiter’s, Kramerbooks, and SisterSpace, for they are fighting the same technological advances that are phasing out the indies like Olsson’s. Let’s support all of our precious independent bookstores. – Derek Hyra, author of The New Urban Renewal: The Economic Transformation of Harlem and Bronzeville 
  • Great article… but why the Busboys and Poets misrepresentations? The vast majority of events are free at BB&P and the atmosphere at the bookstore really brings together diverse people into one vibrant place. It, too, is a DC institution and I believe the successes of Busboys and Politics/Prose are COMPLIMENTARY. They, simply, both echo the same message; making books and exchanging thoughtful ideas ‘cool’ in Washington. Ibrahim Elshamy, Peace and Conflict Studies student, Northern Ireland
  • Wow. Lovely depiction of P&P but some of the comments/errors made regarding Teaching for Change’s Busboy and Poets Bookstore are really unfortunate. The bookstore actually hosts several FREE author events a week. I’m a Washingtonian and appreciate P&P’s presence. But the bookstore at the 14th and V BBP is particularly special to me because of its commitment to and focus on promoting progressive titles and author events. And I read ALL of the books I purchase there (at least, all the ones I don’t give as gifts). -Nzinga Tull
  • It is unfortunate that in this day and time we are still subjected to pitting one against the other. Promoting competition between two of the most successful progressive venues in the city is deplorable and does not serve our community’s best interest. This would have been a great article by merely telling Politics & Prose great story, mourning their lost and discussing their future. The criticisms of Busboys & Poets were unfounded and unnecessary. As for instance, if I were to criticize Politics & Prose for hosting Condoleezza Rice’s book event and charge that Howard Zinn must be turning over in his grave would be unfair. I patronize both establishments and met Alice Walker and Howard Zinn initially at Politics & Prose then enjoyed them both up close and personal at Busboys and Poets. Does that make me old and cool? Both of these establishments are products of their locations as is the inflammatory insight in this article the product of the narrow focus of this author’s life experiences. – Kymone Freeman, founder of the National Black LUV Festival and the writer/producer of the play “Prison Poetry”
  • As an alternative high school teacher, the Teaching for Change Bookstore at Busboys and Poets is one of the few places I can find great books (both for myself and my students) and feel good about supporting a local, independent bookstore and excellent organization. When I have books I need to order for gifts or for my classroom, I simply e-mail Don at the bookstore and he places the orders for me, so I rarely set foot in big box bookstores. Also, I have met several excellent authors at the free author events at Busboys and Poets hosted by Teaching for Change. – Lindsay Colf, teacher, Fairfax County Public Schools
  • I have been saddened by the disappearance of independent bookstores in our city and hope that new ownership will not dilute P & P’s presence in DC. It is unfortunate that the article pitted two great bookstores against each other rather than celebrate what each has to offer our community. Living in a diverse city, I know that I can easily find children’s books at Teaching for Change that reflect and honor the diversity of my children and their friends. The Teaching for Change staff are incredibly helpful and willing to find books that I learn about through Teaching Tolerance and other progressive magazines and websites. I work with a lot of people who visit DC and I always encourage them to go to Busboys and Poets for dinner, events and, most importantly, the bookstore. Being surrounded by progressive books that offer insight into the challenging issues of our time and realizing that there are creative resources to help us begin conversations with our children about creating change is a rare and inspiring experience that everyone needs to have! – Susan BurtonDirector, United Methodist Seminar Program
  • Busboys and Poets has a great bookstore operated by an NGO and gives back to the community more than any other restaurant in Washington, DC. All their author events are free. Let’s get our facts right next time, City Paper. Busboys and Poets is a great concept and jealousy shouldn’t be a motivation for a story. – David Cohen

Posted Tuesday, November 1, 2011 |

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