The people at Philly AIDS Thrift are having a hell of a week. Not only in the organization behind the two thrift shops (5th off South, Pine Street at Giovanni’s Room) dedicated to benefitting area HIV/AIDS service organizations celebrating its 15th-anniversary store sale. The PAT team announced that it has, as of October 2020, donated three million dollars to said service organization during that same 15 year period, and is preparing a new grant cycle that will open in November, with monies from last week’s store sales, and October 14’s drive-in movie screening of “Beetlejuice” held in collaboration with Philadelphia Film Society, and taking place at the Philadelphia Navy Yard at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 per car, which includes a goodie bag and can be purchased at HERE.
What hasn’t been announced, until now, is that Philly AIDS Thrift will debut its publishing arm with this week’s release of, “queerbook,” the culmination of Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room’s, famed first-ever writing contest.
“At the beginning of this year, we invited members of our community to submit work for our writing contest with the ultimate goal of publishing an anthology, as well as hosting a release party event where all the authors in the book would be invited to do a reading,” said Philly AIDS Thrift Co-Founder Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou. “Obviously with COVID-19, that plan has changed a bit, but, we are still here and proud to present “queerbook,” as a collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from members of our store’s community from all over the world. Featuring over 30 writers, as well as an introduction from one of the founders of Giovanni’s Room, this book reflects our pasts, presents, and futures: it is a snapshot of our current moment — our hopes, dreams and fears in a quickly changing world.”
“queerbook” can be ordered for $14.99 HERE. Every copy of “queerbook,” goes to support the PAT mission: raising money for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Alan Chelak, the manager of PAT at Giovanni’s Room, stated that he and the members of the PAT team “wanted to find a way to elevate the voices in our community, and when you look at a community of readers you’ll begin to find that many of them are writers.”
With that, an anthology of written works made the most sense, and a writing contest was launched with the hope of publishing a book in June during pride. “We had hoped to hold a big event where we would invite all the authors to do a reading, but unfortunately COVID-19 has delayed those plans – for now!”
Now, over 30 new authors are featured in “queerbook,” adding a proud written chapter to Giovanni’s Room history, that of the oldest continuously running LGBT bookstore in the United States, founded as it was, in 1973, but, moved to its current location in 1979.
“Historically, the bookstore has served as a refuge and cultural center for the LGBTQ civil rights movement and has provided resources to those working to gain legal rights for LGBTQ people, wrote Chelak. “The bookstore experienced its economic height in the early 1990s after which the rise of big-box bookstores followed by the beginning of online book selling put the store under difficult financial straits. By the beginning of the 21st century, the store was no longer turning a profit and the owner (Ed Hermance) announced he would have to close the store… That’s when Philly AIDS Thrift stepped in and began a conversation with Ed about how we could continue the legacy of Giovanni’s Room by carrying new and used LGBT books and materials while integrating our thrift store model into the business. An agreement was reached in the summer of 2014, and the store was reopened as Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room. Not only do we continue to carry new and used LGBT books and materials, we also continue to host author events and other community activities. One major change we have made to the store is that we opened up the backstair way and turned it into a popular art gallery where customers can find incredible and unique items. Today, the store is turning a profit, so much so that in June of 2018, Philly AIDS Thrift bought the buildings that house the store, thus securing the legacy of Giovanni’s Room for future generations.”
One of the writers who are part of that future generation is Philadelphia Glorious Piner. Currently featured in Prolit Magazine and Toho Journal with work forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, Florida Review and Conduit Magazine, poet Piner – an Agender African-American West Philadelphian – is featured in “queerbook” with two poems, one in prose, the other in verse.
“’With Child’ and ‘Parade (Rimbaud #6)’ both express the inner conflict – once bridging into adulthood – of having to separate and individuate yourself from your mother. In us exists two people – the person mothers imagines and raises us to be and the person who we actually are. The person who, despite all of the transgressions from the other person, fights to your death, of one kind or another, to become actualized. Both poems, I think, illustrate a fight between those two people,” writes Piner.
On these poems, Piner writes that, “All of us, to some degree, will have to struggle to survive our parents in this particular way, but I think – and maybe I’m being presumptuous here – but I think this internal struggle, for many, too many LGTBQ+ identifying people, is far more pervasive and insidious. For the non-LGBTQ+ person, there is a well-founded hope that one day, you’ll be able to re-introduce yourself to your parents or your family and be embraced. I think, too, there is some basic understanding on the family’s part that one day, they must be open to the likelihood that the [straight] people that they love will live a life outside of them and be transformed by it. Parents of [straight] children know that not only will they have to give their children permission to be themselves, but that they don’t have much choice in the matter. LGBTQ+ people, particularly those of us from non-approving, often violently non-approving families, aren’t afforded the permission to become themselves, and I think, for that reason, the war between those two people I’d mentioned – the person we were told we are and the person we actually are – is bloody and longstanding. Again, I could be presumptuous here, but my instinct is that a solid portion of us experience this kind of thing to a more severe degree than straight people. I knew, when submitting for the anthology, that there might be someone, a reader within our community, who needed to know that they weren’t alone in that experience.”