Word Up A True Community Bookstore
Word Up is an oasis in Washington Heights, an area in uptown Manhattan that would otherwise be a “book desert.” The neighborhood is about five miles from any large chain bookstore. There are no big box stores in the immediate neighborhood, and no big chain discount stores that sell printed materials.
A study conducted in neighborhoods with concentrated pockets of poverty discovered that a large percentage of families in those communities did not have easy access to books. As other research has shown, a lack of children’s books in the home is a strong indicator of whether a child will do well in school or not.
Word Up exists as part of the The Seven Stories Institute, whose mission is to provide necessary books to communities that do not otherwise have access to them, and to stimulate discussion of important policy issues within those communities who have the most to lose in the current political and economic crises but have the least access to the terms of the debate.
On their web site, Word Up is described as a “multilingual, general-interest community bookshop and arts space in Washington Heights, New York City, committed to preserving and building a neighborhood in which all residents help each other to live better informed and more expressive lives, using books as an instrument of reciprocal education and exchange, empowering not only themselves, but their community.”
Run by volunteers, this is a vibrant community space at 165th Street and Amsterdam that hosts readings, concerts, film screenings, theater productions, art openings, workshops, and other community events. There is an abundance of Spanish and bi-lingual language books, and works by Dominican and Latino authors.
As “book deserts” go, Word Up is certainly an oasis in Washington Heights. However, we have a long way to go if we are to get books into the homes of low-income students, who are thirsty for new vocabulary.