Wild Iris Books: Your Literary Feminist and LGBTQ+ Fix
It’s June, which means LGBTQ+ Pride Month is upon us.
And while Gainesville might not host the biggest or most bombastic pride parades in the country, it is home to Florida’s only feminist and LGBTQ+ bookstore, Wild Iris Books. So, if you’re in town this month, this hole-in-the-wall shop on South Main Street will satisfy your intellect.
“Gainesville has an awesome feminist legacy,” said Erica Merrell, co-owner of Wild Iris Books. The city is home to one of the first five women’s liberation groups in the U.S.
The bookstore has gone through several owners, relocations and name changes since its creation in the 1970s.
“When this space first started, we didn’t have this dialogue that we have now around feminism,” Merrell said. “We didn’t have Beyoncé or Emma Watson or Malala. We didn’t have marriage equality.”
“I think everyone should be a feminist. I don’t think it’s only for women.”
In its early years, it was mostly lesbian-focused. Women gathered there for political action and for fun.
“It was a space for people to be safe, to be out,” she said.
In recent years, as worldwide dialogue about social justice issues has shifted and increased, the bookstore’s owners have worked to expand its content to make it even more inclusive.
“I’d like to think now people think of it as more of a social justice space where we raise up all these minority voices and anyone who is still marginalized has a place,” Merrell said.
Books on women’s studies, queer studies, minorities, history and social justice make up most the inventory. This is the go-to shop to find works from authors like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Assata Shakur and Angela Davis. There is also a section that highlights local authors like Lauren Groff. The rest includes fiction, cooking books, poetry, graphic novels and children’s books that feature gay and transgender family members.
The store also offers astrology books and a New Age section with smudge sticks and tarot cards. Historically, the link between feminism and New Age comes from people seeking practices that allowed them to remain connected to their spirituality without having to bow down to the patriarchal teachings of some religions that lack female deities or ministers and reject some aspects of sexuality and gender identity, Merrell said.
“Gainesville has an awesome feminist legacy.”
“To society, feminism is more popular than it’s ever been,” she said. “I think people are finally starting to move past the ‘Oh, you hate men?’”misconception. “I think everyone should be a feminist. I don’t think it’s only for women.”
Every month, Merrell, co-owner Cheryl Calhoun and other volunteers organize Free Store at Wild Iris Books, an event focused around receiving donations from members of the community and redistributing them free of charge to anybody who needs them.
Donations include everything from clothes and shoes to furniture, appliances, children’s toys, blankets and hygiene products. Clothes are sectioned by size but not by gender to provide a safe space for nonbinary and transitioning folks.
You can visit Wild Iris Books on any Friday or Saturday. The store runs solely on sales, donations and the weekend efforts of volunteers who have other full-time jobs during the week, Merrell said. “It’s definitely a labor of love.”