Bookshops & the Literary Field in the Time of Corona

Just when I thought I could write a little something about how bookshops and literary event organisers deal with the current situation, I came across a short article by Clare Thorp who wrote about how bookshops in different countries find ways to still sell books into their communities and beyond (link to article, BBC).

I have been following the doctors’ orders and stayed at home, following lots of bookshops, publishers, authors and other creative people on Twitter and Instagram. So I know that many bookshops also deliver books by bike now (to people who don’t live too far away) or the royal or not so royal mail. I’ve enjoyed the book and bike pictures of Pankebuch (books from “The North”) Berlin-Pankow and Krumulus (children’s books and crafts) in Berlin-Kreuzberg as well as the elaborate reviews and recommendations by the ocelot team in Berlin-Mitte. That’s my little bubble and I’m sure there are others who help people through these interesting times, so please feel free to share.

“Freundschaft fürs Lesen”

I came across another interesting initiative called “Freundschaft fürs Lesen”. The PR agency Literaturtest, who specialises in book PR and marketing and organises the future!publish conference every January, started this pro bono campaign to help bookshops make up for some of the lost turnover. The idea is to buy gift vouchers now and then use them either later once the bookshops have reopened or right now via their online shops. The campaign started on 24 March and some bookshops between Zingst and Freiburg have already joined (link to the campaign website).

Meanwhile in the UK

And while this blog draft has been sitting on my desk, the situation in the UK has worsened for bookshops as suppliers have stopped their work. Bertram Books and Gardners, the two leading wholesalers, have both made public announcements yesterday that they’re temporarily closing. So now even the bookshops who continued to sell online or non-contact-hand-delivered books can no longer sell. Of course, everyone understands this! But with everyone being so hopeful about the situation of indie bookshops in the UK after a rise in overall bookshop numbers since 2017, I am scared that these tough times just got tougher for many small bookshops.

Bex and Rhys from Ninja Book Box and the London Book Shop Crawl organise a virtual bookshop crawl to celebrate bookshops even if they need to stay closed. They share pictures, videos, stories etc. on their Twitter account (link) and Instagram feed (link). Kick off was on Monday, 30 March. Hashtag: #virtualbookshopcrawl

Events and Social Media

Like so many others, literary agency, bookshop and festival organiser InterKontinental had to cancel their African Book Festival that was supposed to take place 17-19 April. They’re now using their social media channels to celebrate their speakers and their works (some information is also accessible here: link to their website) – and they’re of course still sell their speakers’ books!

From 23-30 March, a new virtual literature festival came to people’s screens: Afrolit Sans Frontières, “an initiative from writers of African origin curated by Zukiswa Wanner”. James Murua wrote about it on his blog and also included some snaphots of the 16 writers from 10 African countries who “shared their own original work from 15 different cities in English, French, Lingala, and Portuguese to a global virtual audience online over eight days”. Leye Adenle joined from London and Kalaf Epalanga from Berlin. Read more on James’ blog (link to James Murua’s blog about Afrolit Sans Frontieres; with snapshots)

Literaturhaus Berlin already published some recordings of their events online, but now they also moved some of their events online (I think I also saw something on Instagram Live some days ago). A new series of events starts today (2 April): “Haus Gropius: Fiktional”. They bring together authors and artists in “tandem residences”, like artist Inge Mahn and poet Sujata Bhatt today. This is a cooperation with the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation. More information as well as audio and video clips on the LiBe website:

Before this whole corona thing blew up, Joy Francis met Bernardine Evaristo in Bristol for the Bristol Literary Takeover! Bernardine curated a list of recent books by “20 brilliant Black British womxn writers” for International Women’s Day in March (in partnership with Words of Colour Productions, Waterstones and Bristol Libraries) to “celebrate the increasing number of black womxn being published while recognising that they are still under-represented in the wider literary landscape”. The list and comments by Bernardine and Joy are accessible here: link to Words of Colour blog.  And the conversation between Joy Francis and Bernardine Evaristo about Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine’s writing and the parallels between life at the theatre and writing novels is available here: link to youtube clip.

Sharmaine Lovegrove, publisher at Dialogue Books, started a virtual book club, the #DialogueBookLounge! The books club ‘meets’ every Thursday evening at 8pm (London time). She’ll “reveal our book each Friday and you’ll have six days to read it before you can watch a live session with the author. Tweet us your questions over the week or ask them on the day!”

I couldn’t make it last week and can’t today, but this is on my wish list!

Many authors also read online, but I lost track, to be honest. There is of course so much more on social media – and it seems as if they’re really living up to this name now, more than ever ?

My respect goes out to all those people who are still creating and sharing so many creative things (my brain starts to feel a bit fried). This is so much work on top of everything else and I know that it’s not always cause ‘it’s so much fun’, but quite often also because they feel their existence is threatened if they can’t keep audiences engaged. So: respect and lots of strength to you all.


Further links and Recommendations

  • Check out the “Dead Ladies Show” podcast, produced by Susan Stone. In the recordings of the famous Dead Ladies Shows, hosts Katy Derbyshire, Florian Duijsens and their guests “celebrate ladies who were fabulous while they were alive, in English and in German”. Some examples: Ada Lovelace (episode 17), Dr Irihapeti Ramsden, a Māori nurse, writer, educator & anthropologist (episode 19) or episode 30 about the “anarchist philosopher, activist, and writer” Emma Goldman, “Red Emma” (link to browser version of the podcast; also available on Spotify, Apple PodcastsRadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, and Acast)
  • “Have you read” podcast by Charlott Schönwetter, who does not only write great reviews, but also publishes her interviews with authors like Musa Okwonga, Sharon Dodua Otoo and Panashe Chigumadzi:
  • Check out the hashtag #virtuellebuchesse and #buecherhamstern – lots of interesting presentations of indie publishers, authors, books, etc.
  • Nikola Richter (mikrotext, digital first publisher): “Mehr Solidarität auch außerhalb der Krise“, link to Tagesspiegel Background article (in German).
  • And for artists in the literary field: Nina George’s summary of financial aid for creative industry workers: “Tipps für Finanzhilfen” (link to article in Boersenblatt, in German).


* picture = Newham Bookshop London (taken at my last visit, pre-corona…,