A Connected World—By Christopher DiRaddo

Montreal’s gay, lesbian, and feminist bookstore, L’Androgyne, closed for good in 2002. At the time, I knew I was going to miss it, but even now, some seventeen years later, I still feel its loss.

I don’t remember the first time I went inside, but I remember being nervous about it. Who would see me go in? And what would I find there? I still remember its address: 3636 St. Laurent. I remember its smell too: the books, the paper, the glue that held everything together. The place was small, a mere 1,200 square feet, with three rows of white bookshelves all built by hand. It was here where I discovered my favourite authors, where I first picked up copies of books by Armistead Maupin, Ethan Mordden, Sarah Schulman, Andrew Holleran, and Sarah Waters.

It was also here where I found community. Where I made friends—France, David, and Johanne—all working behind the counter. I’d visit several times a week, if I could, leaving not only with books or magazines but with stories about real people’s lives and the places and events and collected history that were all a part of this exciting community I had just found. Before the Internet, a city’s LGBTQ bookstore was where you got your news. It was where you could pick up queer publications like Fugues or Xtra or the Guide, flyers for parties, maps for marches. And it was also a place where you could develop a crush among the stacks, where you could smile and flirt and finally meet others who shared your interests.

Walking down the aisles, I’d sometimes imagine my own book on the shelves. At that time, I’d been writing for years with no indication that anything would ever come of it. How great would it be, I’d think, to see a book I had written alongside these legends (under D, somewhere between Delaney and Donoghue)? Sadly, I never got to know that feeling. By the time my first book was published, L’Androgyne was twelve years cold in the ground.

I’m sure many of you can relate to losing your favourite bookstore. L’Androgyne was not the only one to lose out as the world moved online. For the LGBTQ community, though, there was a moment when the arrival of the Internet held such promise. It meant that people could have more access to resources and information (especially those who didn’t live in urban areas). It was a place where we could congregate easily, expand our networks, and make connections. Yet something authentic was lost. Gone was the human touch, the spontaneity, the chance for discovery, the surprise of the unknown. Sure, I could Google “new gay fiction” if I wanted to know what to read next. I could add “booklover” to my dating profile. But gone were the deep conversations, the quiet browsing, the raucous laughter, the looking for friends, lovers, and other limited editions in the aisles.

When my book finally came out in 2014, I was disappointed there wasn’t a home for it. I did a few public readings in straight spaces, but rarely sold copies. There was no forum in Montreal for me to introduce my book to my community. And it wasn’t just me. All around I was seeing Canadian writers continuing to publish LGBTQ books and they too struggled to reach an audience.

So, I decided to start my own reading series. I figured, if Montreal didn’t have an LGBTQ bookstore, I’d make one—at least for a few nights a year. Now, every two months, the Violet Hour takes place in a bar in Montreal’s gay village. And not just any bar, but Stock—a gay male strip club. Why a strip club? Because I wanted a place with a different energy, one where writers could feel like they could take risks with their work. I also wanted to host something in the village because that neighbourhood too had suffered from the shift online and I wanted to bring back some culture to the place that had given me life in my twenties. Above all, I wanted my series to be more like a party, more social. I wanted there to be music and drinks and fun and laughter. Like it was back in the good old days of L’Androgyne. I wanted to unite LGBTQ booklovers in one room and get them talking—about their favourite books, about their favourite writers, about themselves.

To date, there have been more than twenty events and more than a hundred writers who have taken to the stage. That’s hundreds of new connections made between writer and audience. Montreal may not have a dedicated English-language LGBTQ bookstore anymore, but I’d like to think the Violet Hour is the next best thing. And I hope, as long as this country continues to publish LGBTQ literature, that I can provide it with a stage.


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Christopher DiRaddo is the author of The Geography of Pluto and president of the Quebec Writers’ Federation. You can find out more about future Violet Hour events here. The next event is at the Montreal Fringe Festival on June 5, 2019 at 6 p.m. (Mainline Theatre, 3997 St. Laurent).

Photo credits: France Désilets (header banner), Paul Specht (headshot)

6 thoughts on “A Connected World—By Christopher DiRaddo

  1. Chris, a few years ago, I was heartened to read that Ann Patchett opened a brick and mortar bookstore in Nashville. Your reading series, held in a place that intentionally sets a tone and draws together a like-minded community, goes a long way towards accomplishing the goals of a bookstore. Now all we need are the aisles…:)

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  2. I’ve lived here nearly two years now, haven’t gotten to explore all available English independent bookstores in Montreal yet, but have learned of https://www.argobookshop.ca/?q=p.about_us occasionally having a queer book club, and the https://www.meetup.com/QueeReads-Montreal/ is discussing queer texts in English every two to four weeks, now at D&Q’s Petite location which has wheelchair accessibility (unlike Argo). http://mtl.drawnandquarterly.com/blog/book-club-recaps links to a variety of themed book clubs they host; the Strange Futures one is also of lgbtq authors, who are also bipoc, with speculative fiction texts: this club meets every other month. Some of the books engaged by other D&Q clubs are by queer authors too, so there are various chances to discuss such work with readers there.

    Worth noting, Christopher, you’ve also started https://christopherdiraddo.com/2018/09/violet-hour-book-club/ in affiliation with http://paragraphbooks.com/about-us/, which likewise has its own other public events sometimes featuring queer writers. It’s great you’re making even more opportunities for discussion with the Violet Hour club, besides the important work of the reading series, now featuring more Francophone readers as well. Gratitude also to those operating https://librairieleuguelionne.com/en/about/ –it’s now the only one in Canada identified as “feminist” and much queer lit can be found there. Run by Francophones, a majority of texts are French, but they do their best to assist English readers, have periodic events with English queer authors, and carry especially zines and other consigned work by indy English queer writers and art makers.

    Many English zines by queer writers are also at https://www.yelp.ca/biz/le-pick-up-montr%C3%A9al-7 and some other hip local consignment spots, and queer-themed zines and books are prominent and available to read for free at the libraries offered by the http://www.qpirgconcordia.org/resources/ and http://qpirgmcgill.org/resources/alternative-resource-library/, as well as https://theuge.org/library/ at McGill and https://genderadvocacy.org/resources/library/, and http://readingroom.concordia.ca/en/home/ at Concordia. Not sure if one needs a campus ID to visit the Simone de Beauvoir Institute’s https://www.concordia.ca/artsci/sdbi/research/simone-library.html, but it’s an option at least if university affiliated and worth inquiring. Similarly, the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies https://www.mcgill.ca/igsf/events has free occasions for the public this coming autumn to intersect with folks working in queer publishing, such as the founders of local Metonymy Press.

    https://www.ccglm.org/biblio.php?langue=en is a welcoming centre in the Village, also majority French but with some English resources too, and likewise http://www.lamandragore.xyz/ is a Franco-run feminist queer library project, which also hosts periodic workshops and film events. Last but not least, as anarchism is friendlier to queer identities than some other politics, this weekend’s http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/2019-tablers/ will offer chances for many queer bibliophiles to connect, at free workshops and social events too. I expect there are other resources I haven’t found yet, at youth centres or UQAM; while I’d love an explicitly lgbtq+ multi-lingual bookstore to exist here, I’m glad for what gathering opportunities do exist, and hope the Violet Hour series as one of them keeps growing in reach.
    To queer bibliophilia, from Seeley, a former bookstore and library worker of 13+ years in the San Francisco Bay Area 🙂

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  3. And you do so brilliantly, Chris. Without you, where would the LGBTQI literary scene be? Yes, there are venues and we’re so grateful for them. But none as rambunctious, as raucous, as free, as compelling and inspiring as your ingenious invention.

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  4. Chris, I’ve only just read this article, and I love your evocation of what has been lost with the advent of the Internet and online “communities.” Still, some bookstores do at least have LGBTQ sections, which tend to be so small that one cannot help but flirt if there happens to be someone else looking at the same shelves. I found some great books back in 2016 in the LGBT section of a Waterstone’s in Manchester (UK).

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