Día De Los Muertos Artist Interview: United Booksellers of San Francisco

I meant to write to you

“I meant to write to you,” 2016. United Booksellers of San Francisco. Photo by Tara Chandi.

Interview with Denise Sullivan from Modern Times Bookstore Collective.

How did this collaboration between three long-standing  bookstores in the Mission come about?

We frequently collaborate on events and other projects . For Día De Los Muertos 2016, Josephine Villegas Torio, representing Adobe, was contacted by Rene and she organized us and provided the structure for the piece. Kate Rosenberger Akimbo of Alley Cat and Dog Eared conceived and crafted it and we all contributed the materials, things we felt represented the sympathies of our stores. In the case of Modern Times which is an activist bookstore, we had recently lost a member of our community, Eileen Hansen, who right until her death was working to get the store on track with city and community support; we lost her at a crucial time and we wished to honor her by memorializing her in this exhibit.

What is the role that a neighborhood bookstore plays in the community? How has this changed over the past few decades?

It was important to Modern Times that we represent our local victims of police violence, as our store is a hub for information on militarized policing and racial profiling. We wanted to feature books by civil rights activists and giants who passed this year, people like Muhammad Ali and Elie Wiesel who devoted their lives to peace. Little did we know that while we were creating this exhibit that we would be eulogizing Modern Times itself which sadly will be closing on November 15 after 45 years in business. The forces of greed and gentrification here in San Francisco are just too great to overcome sometimes.

As booksellers, we are like mini-communities within communities. In our case we’re all in the Mission, but we are an integral part of the wider city’s literary heritage, as book lovers come from all over seeking what we have. I don’t think our bookstores have changed  much which is what people like about them.

What do you hope gallery visitors will walk away with after seeing this exhibit?

We hope that viewers will find some consolation from the pain and grief of loss through reading and writing. Life and especially life in San Francisco is ever changing. But our bookstores, at least some of them are still here and available for the people who want and need them. We provide a unique service in that way, and we hope to continue to provide it outside the gallery. We are leftovers from the analog world. Some of us like it that way.

Is there a specific audience that you’re hoping to reach out to with this showcase?

People who know and love books and writing and typewriters and letters and talking and people are the people we hope to reach.  We hope to reach thinking and feeling and loving people.  Maybe people who are suffering under the weight of oppression or grief will find something healing and consoling in our piece

About the artists:

The exhibit was a collaboration between three long standing bookstores on 24th Street in the Mission: Adobe Books & Arts Collective, Alley Cat Bookstore & Gallery, and Modern Times Bookstore Collective. Each store has been an established business for 20+yrs, has weathered the changes in the neighborhood and manages to survive. Each represents a unique aspect of the vast Mission arts and literary culture. They hope to share their history as progressive art spaces with both old and new residents, visitors and future friends who have yet to walk in the door.

About the Interviewer:

Tara Chandi is SOMArts’ Communications & Gallery Events Intern. She is pursuing a Master’s in Interaction Design at the California College of the Arts. Her work is focussed on designing for sustainable solutions and systemic change.