Recently, SWS Intern, Kejsi Ruka, spoke with Baker A. Rogers about their new business: Queer Haven Books, an independent, queer bookstore in Columbia, South Carolina. Baker is a past SWS-South President and presently serves as an elected member of the SWS Nominations Committee.
Currently, there is a Kickstarter campaign to help Queer Haven Books get to their fundraising goal of $50,000. To participate in the Kickstarter campaign, please visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/queerhavenbooks/queer-haven-books.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I am an Associate Professor of Sociology and the Director of our Masters and Social Sciences program at Georgia Southern University. I live in Columbia, South Carolina. I moved here twelve years ago and I saw the need for more space for queer communities. Especially in the South, there’s a need for more spaces, but I was young and couldn’t really do anything. I wanted to open a gay bar, but now that I’m back here and a little older, there’s even more of a need for queer space, and actually a lot of lesbian bars have closed down. There are two gay bars now that are left, so I wanted to open a more inclusive queer space and I didn’t want it to be a bar because queer people need other places to hang out. Based on my background in education and sociology and inequality, I decided this would be where I could use my skills to provide education and books and things like that to the community, but also to create a queer space in the South.
What inspired you to open this business? Can you tell us a little bit about Queer Haven Books and how you got things started?
What inspired me is I grew up in South Carolina and have always felt that there weren’t any queer spaces. It’s getting better in South Carolina, like we’re now getting physicians and surgeons who focus on trans people, but that’s very recent and we still are lacking queer space. I decided to start Queer Haven Books and I incorporated it and wrote a business plan the first week in April. I have just been promoting it as much as possible and we have the online store up and running. We’re doing events, there’s a local NoMa Flea where they have a warehouse where local artists do a lot of their work and sell their work, and every Friday night they have an event, a flea market and so we’re selling there. We’re going to the South Carolina Pride Outfest, and will be at Prides in Rock Hill, South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina, and we’re going to be at some other things in Charleston and Greenville.
So we’re all around the South right now, selling and trying to raise money. But most importantly what we’re doing now is our Kickstarter Campaign. We’re trying to raise $50,000 and that’s a lot. A Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform, so if we don’t make it to $50,000 we don’t get any of it. Right now, we’re a little over $9,000 so we have a long way to go. So we really need as many donors as possible and hopefully some big donors will come through. The Kickstarter would be enough to get us off the ground, get us in a brick-and-mortar building, and get us started for the first year until we can make some profit to get the business running. That’s kind of where we are. It’s mid-May and it’s been a month and a half of crazy, but I’m really excited about it.
What are your aspirations for the bookstore? What types of programming are you hoping to have?
A big part of it is education and selling books, but then a big part of it is community and helping and giving back to the community. So right now, we’re selling books. We’re going to have a coffee shop so it will be more communal. And in the evenings, we are going to use that space for programming and things. Right now, we’re thinking about queer book clubs, sex positive education classes, and any other support groups that really need a space to meet. The Harriet Hancock Center in Columbia is a great resource and they have a lot of support groups, so we don’t want to be overlapping services, we just want to create extra space because one place is just not enough space. I’ve talked with some people trying to open a nonprofit in Atlanta that would provide trans and queer counseling services, so eventually I would love to have counselors, HIV testing, even physicians or nurses to provide care surrounding the business. I would like to partner with different people to have certain services, as well, which would be further down the road. That’s an aspiration for sure.
How have you curated your book collection?
Right now it’s small, because it’s all in my house and we don’t have a budget, so we’ve been curating largely through a lot of things I’ve read that I love, some classic books, some academic books that I know of because of what I do. Also, I have a young daughter and so the books that I read to her are kind of where my curation of my children’s section comes from. We have lots of queer children’s books around the house so that’s where I started. Also, people are now emailing me, asking if we can carry their books. People are emailing me telling me books we should carry. Lots of people have sent me lists they think we should carry, so I have a very long list for once we get funding, and I’m sure we’ll keep growing. It’s really interesting because people are surprised, even some queer people are like, “How could you open a queer bookstore?” and they saw us at the NoMa flea last Friday and they’re like, “I thought there would only be five or ten queer books.” I said, “Yes, we still need a lot more, but there are thousands of queer books out there.” So, just spreading the word that this literature is there; we just need to read it and support queer authors.
Is there anything else you would like the SWS membership to know about you and this project/business?
We need support. I know that SWS members understand that feminist and queer spaces have been lacking, and we’d appreciate any support to get this business up and running, in the South especially. To think, in 2023 alone there have been over 540 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills proposed. So, it’s a time when this space and resource is needed more than ever, and we need the feminist community’s support.
Donate to the Kickstarter campaign here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/queerhavenbooks/queer-haven-books.
For more information on Queer Haven Books, please visit: https://queerhavenbooks.com.
On social media, follow @queerhavenbooks on Instagram and Facebook.
To learn more about Baker Rogers, visit their website: https://bakerarogers.com/.