At a time when feminism is back at the forefront of our global conversation, the love and longing for radical reading material, old and new, have become a comforting ground for marginalised communities around the world.
With that in mind, the fact that Paris, historically known for its vibrant intellectual community, only counts 2 feminist bookstores, is noteworthy. The first one, La Librairie Des Femmes, located in the old quartier latin, opened in the 70s alongside a publishing house and was an early refuge for female writers, readers, and thinkers in the midst of the women’s rights movement. Violette&Co, in the 11th arrondissement, came to the scene much later, in 2004, became a reference in French and translated feminist and LGBTQIA+ literature and has been hosting events, book launches, writing workshops and exhibitions ever since. Both shops, however, despite their abundant collections, have a fairly limited selection of books in English, or in any other languages for that matter.
Unfortunately, Paris is also quite short on international bookshops. After a couple of them closed in recent years, the city only counts eight English-speaking ones (out of about 700 total)that are all located on the most touristic, and old-fashioned side of town: WHSmith and Galignani in the 1st arrondissement, Brentano's in the 2nd, Shakespeare&co and The Abbey in the 5th, and SF Books, Berkeley Books, and the newly reopened Red Wheelbarrow in the 6th. Three of them are hardly bigger than a hole in the wall, and only two include a cafe.
Paris is home to tens of thousands of English speakers and, nowadays, many (if not a majority) settle on the trendier Rive Droite (Right Bank) rather than the more traditional Rive Gauche (Left Bank). Moreover, with a new generation of French people more inclined to read texts in their original version, we believe that a bilingual feminist bookshop is overdue on the north side of the city.
A love for literature is a love for ideas and imagination, which makes it one of the most powerful tools for social change. This is why we can't consider a space dedicated to radical books that wouldn't also allocate room to practice, exchange, and go beyond the ideas we get from them. In Paris, the popularity of feminist events has sky-rocketed in the last year, often bringing together phenomenal crowds outside bookshops, museums, or wherever they are able to take place. It is a sign of a craving for those conversations and a need for more venues that caters to them, both literally and metaphorically. Because we don't know a more elementary and everlasting way to bring people together than sharing a good drink or a good meal, we believe the presence of a café to be as important as the bookshop itself. By consciously picking our products and suppliers, we hope to reflect our values on the food and drinks we offer. By challenging the industry standards and putting the accent on sustainability, ethical labor, and of course gender equality, we want to create a more conscious and safer environment for our customers and our staff alike.
When Toni Morrison says that "if there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it", we believe it true of spaces as well. More than a bookshop, a coffee shop, or a bar, C O V E N aims to become a home: A home to ideas, to a community, and to whoever is seeking shelter from the toxicity of our days. At C O V E N we believe that not only walls but also transparency, open communication, deep questioning, and a profound commitment to human and environmental rights are the keys to building safer spaces and bringing social change back to our local community. We also believe that sometimes what nourishes the body nourishes the soul and vice versa. Let it be a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or a good book.
Erratum: In the first version of this text, we claimed that Paris only had one feminist bookstore, Violette&Co, forgetting to mention the pioneer Librairie Des Femmes. We apologise for this shameful mistake.