Bookstore Highlight: Word Up

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Name: Word Up Community Bookstore/Librería Comunitaria

Space: Bilingual bookstore, community event space

Location: 2113 Amsterdam Avenue (at 165th St.) New York NY 10032

Website: https://www.wordupbooks.com/

Since its inception in 2011 Word Up has evolved from a one month pop-up store into an important community space for the residents of Washington Heights in NYC. Located on the corner of Amsterdam and 165th, Word Up is instantly recognizable by its bright red awning, emblazoned with its name, the carts of $2-5 books outside on the sidewalk and the large windows full of posters and books inviting you to come and explore inside.

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Once you cross the threshold, you immediately feel welcomed into a cozy, slightly bohemian space. with it’s packed with thoughtfully curated displays tables, colorful posters, and bookshelves crammed with new and used books, graphic novels and poetry collections catering to the local bilingual community with abundant texts in both Spanish and English. Quirky, handwritten signs point you to different sections like ‘Latin American Politics and History’ and ‘Libros en Español’. Despite the store being essentially one room, the tall, crammed, bookshelves with an incredibly wide range of genres create the convincing impression of a much larger space, one that is easy to get lost in browsing the shelves to see what treasures you’ll find.

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Most of the bookshelves are immediately to your left when you walk in. Towards the back is an open space (next to a wonderfully large graphic novel section) where events and activities are routinely held. In fact, the first time I went to Word Up, it was to attend an event to celebrate the launch of Ivelisse Rodriguez’s short story collection Love War Stories. The thing that struck me then and now is how truly this is a bookstore for the community. It is staffed by volunteers almost all local residents, it runs community programs and events, and collaborates with local associations (like the Alianza Dominicana) and authors to bring it’s readers relevant and targeted programming for its community. (Check out their Uptown Reads initiative!)

There is so much to love about this indie store. From the enthusiasm of the volunteer staff for their work and community to the expansive Spanish language section, Word Up has become such an important space for it’s community and the Latinx reader community in NYC. I often bemoan the difficulty of finding Spanish language books in the US, particularly Spanish language originals. Word Up puts many larger stores and chains to shame with it’s incredible variety of Spanish language offerings and I haven’t yet been able to leave the store with one or two volumes in hand. (Last time I picked up ‘Las Cosas que Perdimos en el Fuego’ by my tocaya Mariana Enríquez and ‘Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Triptych’ by Marie Vieux Chauvet.) If find yourself in Washington Heights, I highly recommend dropping by this amazing indie bookstore!