overview

Djuna Books was a feminist bookstore in Greenwich Village, which operated from a storefront on the West 10th Street side of this rowhouse from 1977 to 1982.

The store, part of a wave of women-owned bookstores that catered to lesbians in the 1970s and 1980s, carried non-racist and non-sexist books by women’s and lesbian’s presses and authors.

Header Photo
Djuna Books was located in the West 10th Street-facing storefront space at the rear of this building (currently hidden by a green construction wall). Credit: Amanda Davis/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2022.

History

Opened in 1977, by Sue Perlgut, a leader of It’s All Right To Be Woman Theatre, and Shirley Walton-Fischler, Djuna Books was a feminist bookstore located directly across the street from Julius’ in a storefront on the south side of 154 West 10th Street. The owners liked the sound of the name “Djuna” for their store, but did not necessarily name it after Djuna Barnes, author of the first novel that dealt frankly with lesbianism and who lived nearby at 5 Patchin Place. It was one of three feminist bookstores open in New York City at this time, the other two being Womanbooks on the Upper West Side and Women’s Works (later La Papaya bookstore) in Brooklyn. They were preceded by Labyris in Greenwich Village.

Like other feminist bookstores, Djuna Books carried a range of non-sexist, non-racist texts and records. Its inventory included books from “small or women’s press,” “lesbian oriented work,” and books for children and teenagers. Author and Djuna Books customer Paula Martinac set a scene in her lesbian novel The Ada Decades in this “cozy” bookstore. The characters “spent an hour perusing books even Ada had never heard of” and purchased a hat with the word “DYKE” on it and a button that read “We Are Everywhere,” in reference to the store’s actual inventory of feminist ephemera.

Despite praise from Martinac, Djuna Books’ namesake author was not pleased with the bookstore. Upset with her continued association with lesbian culture even though she did not identify as a lesbian, Barnes called the store “a terrible little lesbian bookshop” and phoned the owners to demand they change its name. Djuna Books, however, branded itself as a women’s rather than a lesbian space, stating in its 1982 catalogue that the store served as “an alternative institution servicing the women’s community of New York City.”

Djuna Books closed in 1982, by coincidence the same year that Barnes died. Despite book readings from prominent authors such as Kate Millett and workshops on lesbian theater by Perlgut, Djuna Books struggled to maintain a long-term customer base. Perlgut had moved to Ithaca, and even though she commuted back to New York City to help run the store, it was too much for Walton-Fischler to manage on her own. Walton-Fischler said that customers felt “abandoned,” leading the “women’s grapevine” to spread rumors that the store had closed for good. Djuna Books ultimately closed for the same reason as many other feminist bookstores: lack of sales.

Three Lives & Company, a bookstore that has carried LGBT books for decades and donated to LGBT causes, has been located in the corner storefront (a different space from Djuna Books) at 154 West 10th Street since 1983.

Entry by Emily Kahn, project consultant (July 2020; updated November 2023).

NOTE: Names above in bold indicate LGBT people.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: unknown
  • Year Built: pre-1828

Sources

  1. Bookstores: Women: Djuna Books, October, 1977-1982, Lesbian Herstory Archives, Subject Files: Part 1: Abortion- Bookstores Folder No.02390.

  2. Paula Martinac, “Lesbian New York,” The Queerest Places: LGBTQ History and Historic Sites, March 21, 2017, bit.ly/3f5oEdP.

  3. Shirley Walton-Fischler, “Keep Djuna Alive,” Womanews 3, no. 9 (1982), p. 12.

  4. Sue Perlgut, email to NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, November 10, 2023.

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