By Aimé Casillas
El Gran Combo, originally conceived by Angie Cruz as a gathering in solidarity with Latinx authors and independent bookstores, has now been celebrated for a second year . The first time during the beginning weeks of a pandemic lockdown in April 2020, the event came together as a nod to perseverance. This time around, it was truly a celebration and an ode to community.
This year, we have lost friends and family, food resources, homes, jobs, time, and many of the small pleasures in our daily lives. But, if you are reading this, you are still here, we are still here. We are making it through.
Nine and a half years ago, Word Up was born as a pop-up, out of a feeling of urgency and rare opportunity. We spent the following years developing ways to sustain and strengthen what we’d started, to deepen our commitment to our communities, all the while trying to remain as nimble as when we first sprung up.
When the pandemic led us to close our doors to in-store browsing, as a group we were readier than we realized: the years of organizing with others and among ourselves meant we could jump right in.
We immediately began to process thousands of online orders for print books, audiobooks, and ebooks;
After a successful census kickoff event on March 12th, we moved all promotion and facilitation of the census to online teach-ins or through book and food distribution, to make sure the stories of our neighborhood are counted;
In April, we quickly converted to virtual programming, including some of our most high-profile author events with Julia Alvarez, Edwidge Danticat, Elizabeth Acevedo, Angie Cruz, Nic Stone, Ibi Zoboi, Maria Hinojosa, and more, and sometimes with Spanish, Haitian Kreyol, and ASL interpretation;
This summer, we cemented a new youth programs manager position, which grew out of our Uptown Kid Lit festival, and which included creation of an August virtual environmental summer camp and multiple book clubs, including the Lo’Mas Lit Book Club, all with free books for participants;
In September, we began to host a community fridge, organized by The People’s Fridge at Word Up, which is still regularly restocked;
We opened our sidewalk to resource distribution of all kinds—protest sign making, census and voter registration, food and coat drives, violin performances—and one fantastical author event with Jeff Kinney;
We maintained our small staff on payroll—at a rate that exceeds an NYC living wage—and expanded it as our needs grew.
Looking ahead to 2021, Word Up has even more big plans, so that people in our communities can have better access to the things they need. Our mission is rooted in access to books; it’s the heart of what we do. And the longer we have been doing this work, the closer our work gets to addressing the root causes for why that access can be so limited: systemic racism, the lack of universal healthcare, income inequality, food insecurity, and more. Kids need food to have the presence of mind to absorb what they are learning, what they are reading. During this critical time in history, our holistic perspective of what needs to be done to make books accessible—and the information, knowledge, and joy within them—has become even more relevant.
Word Up está orgullosa de estar en comunidad con lxs activistas y organizadorxs que se levantan y defiendan las vidas negras. Nuestra tienda actual, ubicada en la esquina de Amsterdam y la calle 165, se encuentra en la parte sur de Washington Heights, en un edificio que es propiedad de la organización sin fin de lucro CLOTH, fundada por Lucille Bulger, una mujer negra frustrada con la falta de recursos para la gente negra en su comunidad; a dos cuadras del histórico Audubon Ballroom, donde Malcolm X fue asesinado; a nueve cuadras de la venerable Sister’s Uptown Bookstore, la librería de propiedad de personas negras más antigua en la Ciudad de Nueva York; a tres cuadras del apartamento donde José “Kiko” García fue asesinado por la policía, lo cual condujo a rebeliones alrededor de Washington Heights en 1992.
Word Up is proud to be in community with activists and organizers that stand up and defend Black lives. Our current storefront, located at the corner of Amsterdam and 165th St., is in the southern part of Washington Heights—in a building owned by the nonprofit CLOTH, founded by Lucille Bulger, a Black woman who was frustrated with the lack of resources for Black people in her community; two blocks from the historic Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was assassinated; nine blocks from the venerable Sister’s Uptown Bookstore, the oldest Black-owned bookstore in New York City; and three blocks from the apartment building where Jose “Kiko” Garcia was murdered by police, leading to rebellions throughout Washington Heights in 1992.
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Maurice Gordon, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Jamel Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Allan Feliz, Santiago “Chago” Villanueva, and far too many others are part of the more than 400-year-old history of police brutality and other forms of racist violence against Black people in this country.
Big ups/much love to those who have been on the ground and rallying together around strong calls to action. Legislators are pushing for the Safer NY Act. In Minneapolis, they are discussing disbanding the police. Millions of people have taken to the streets.
That said, this work is ongoing.
Our commitment as a collective and as a community space over the last nine years has been one of continuous education and open discussion. We are wrestling together with how systems can be reimagined through defunding the police, demanding reparations, ending prison culture and the carceral state, and building better accountability and housing and healthcare systems. We want to be a part of building a more equitable future.
Below are some ways you can join us:
By Carolina Valencia
Thank you so much to everyone who attended last week’s virtual book launch of Clap When You Land with Elizabeth Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte. There were so many of you showing your love in the chat that it actually slowed down the video!
As the bookselling world increasingly relies on mail carriers during the Covid-19 pandemic, and as we all try to deliver our services while keeping everyone safe, there are undoubtedly delays in fulfillment and shipping times. This may also result in missing packages, or misplaced ones. If you would like to insure and track your packages, please consider using our Ground Shipping and Priority Mail options. Media Mail is the least costly, and understandably the most common option, but it does not include insurance and we cannot guarantee timely deliveries. We are working with all of your orders closely, and with you personally to ensure everyone is satisfied and more importantly, get your books!
Feel free to contact us at email@example.com with any questions or issues.
By Carolina Valencia
Thank you so much to all the readers and participants who came through to la gran fiesta virtual con Jaquira Díaz, Melissa Rivero, Carolina De Robertis, Lilliam Rivera, Angie Cruz, Natalia Sylvester, y Lupita Aquino, in support of local bookstores during these times! We at Word Up are so grateful the event went so well and felt the love from all the readers.
As the brainchild of featured author Angie Cruz, El Gran Combo came together in a few days in support of Latinx authors and three independent bookstores across NYC—The Lit. Bar, Mil Mundos Books, and Word Up Community Bookshop Librería Comunitaria. Personally, I had the great opportunity of helping set up this event and designing the graphics for it. I had previously worked with Angie on Word Up’s program Uptown Reads, which featured Dominicana as its first pick back in the Fall of 2019 and knew this event would be great due to her involvement.
From the chat, we could tell you were all craving a recap of the many golden nuggets dropped by the authors, so here it is!
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With all the news understandably focused on coronavirus, why are we bothering to remind our community to fill out this once-in-a-decade survey? Word Up collective member Taylor Lampe (MPH, Epidemiology, '19) explains: The 2020 Census is still happening in the midst of coronavirus, and the U.S. Census Bureau is committed to safely collecting responses to ensure that everyone is counted. Many of us may be wondering, though, why does the 2020 Census matter when there are so many pressing coronavirus needs? In fact, completing the 2020 Census is a critical step that we can all take to support coronavrius response—and here’s why!
[See the full 3/27/20 newsletter—with books & online events!—here.]
Hi neighbors, How are you? We hope that you are staying home if you can. We miss you and would like to check in. So, we are having an Uptown Check-In today on Zoom, 8pm–9pm! No agenda, just BYOB and stop by whenever you can for that hour. At 8pm, click this link to join. Because we could all use more togetherness, we are doing our best to bring back events. Join us for the return of Word Up Story Time this Saturday @ 11am! On Instagram Live, Emmanuel Abreu will be reading the bilingual children's picture book that the Word Up Collective created together in 2013, Home at Word Up: A Story of a Bookshop in Washington Heights/En casa en Word Up: