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Book News: Gay Bookstore Said To Be The Nation's Oldest Is Closing

A historical marker stands outside Giovanni's Room in Philadelphia. Owner Ed Hermance says he plans to close the doors for good later this month.
A historical marker stands outside Giovanni's Room in Philadelphia. Owner Ed Hermance says he plans to close the doors for good later this month.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Philadelphia bookstore Giovanni's Room, thought to be the oldest gay bookstore in the country, will close on May 17, the Philadelphia Gay Newsreported last week. In the time since the announcement, Victoria A. Brownworth wrote in Slate that it is "like losing a dear friend," and in Salon, Steve Berman worried that "its absence will cause a ripple effect in LGBT publishing." Giovanni's Room — a reference to the James Baldwin novel of the same name — opened in 1973. Owner Ed Hermance told PGN that the store was losing money, adding, "The government is allowing Amazon to tighten their fingers around the throats of the publishers and drive their retail competitors out of the business by clearly monopolistic methods." He noted, "I know that thousands of people have used and cared about this store. It is very emotional for me."
  • Louise Erdrich, Mark Haddon, Chinelo Okparanta and Tessa Hadley are among the 20 winners of the O. Henry Prize, an annual award for short fiction. Winners range from Erdrich, who won the 2012 National Book Award, to relatively unknown writers whose stories were published in university literary magazines. The 20 stories will be published as a book, The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014, in September. See the full list of winners here.
  • Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat writes about the real price of sugar bought from the Dominican Republic: "Recruited under false pretenses and sometimes trafficked from Haiti, many of these men and women (and children too) work in Dominican sugarcane villages, or bateyes, in conditions that barely differ from those of their 18th-century forebears. During the zafra, or cane harvest season, they work from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. Yet they are barely able to pay for the food they eat. Some have their identity papers taken from them and fall into such bottomless debt that it becomes impossible for them to leave. Their children cannot go to school or learn a trade. Given the world's insatiable appetite for sugar, this brutal cycle might well drag into the next century."
  • "I get paid a king's ransom for doing what comes naturally." Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø is profiled in The New Yorker.
  • At the PEN American Center Literary Gala on Monday night, Ilham Tohti's daughter accepted the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award on her father's behalf. The Uighur writer and economist is critical of China's treatment of ethnic minorities, and was jailed earlier this year on charges of separatism. Jewher Ulham said her father's only weapons were "words — spoken, written, distributed and posted," adding, "This is all he has ever had at his disposal and all that he has ever needed. And this is what China finds so threatening."
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    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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