A Room of One's Own celebrated with the Midwest Bookseller of the Year Award

Posted By: Carrie Obry Awards ,

The Midwest Bookseller of the Year award looks back on the past year to celebrate booksellers who have made an extraordinary impact on their community. This year, we’re excited to give the award to the staff at A Room of One’s Own in Madison, Wisconsin.

Room logo credit: Meghan Griffin

Congratulations to the staff at A Room of One’s Own, Midwest Booksellers of the Year.

  • First picture, left to right: Caide Jackson, Anada Werner, Misian Taylor, Sydne Conant, Alej Pérez
  • Second picture, left to right: Gretchen Treu, Russell Potter, Sam Faulkner, Wes Lukes 
  • Not pictured: Gideon Ariel

“This is an award that reflects our collective experiences,” says Carrie Obry, director of MIBA. “A bookstore like A Room of One’s own is mission-driven, so when the world is in a state of crisis, the business becomes even more of a demonstration of the store's values.” During a period of nationwide crisis, the staff at Room has kept the store running and their customers reading while also expanding their profile as one of the Midwest's most empowered, political, and feisty bookstores.

One of the Midwest’s proudly queer-owned bookstores, A Room of One’s Own found a voice in 2021 as a staunch defender of trans rights and a vocal advocate for queer, trans, and BIPOC people everywhere. This commitment to uplifting historically unrepresented communities is present in everything they do—social media, events, custom merchandise, the books they stock and promote—and has been especially uplifting during a year of isolation and political strife.

Chloe Benjamin, author of New York Times bestselling The Immortalists, says, “I can think of no worthier recipient for this award than A Room of One's Own, a place that truly embodies the notion of a community bookstore. Room's passion for books is indivisible from their moral compass and inclusive ethic. In creating a safe, supportive space for every reader, they perform radical book magic.”

In a June 2021 profile in Publishers Weekly, Gretchen Treu, co-owner of A Room of One’s Own along with Wes Lukes, called the store an “activist, rabble-rousing, mission-driven bookstore,” adding “when we bought the store, we were very interested in bringing it back to its roots in a much more modern fashion.” Indeed, it’s remarkable to witness Room put their “joyfully abolitionist stamp” on the bookstore at a time when existential crises are actively threatening small businesses.

Cara Nesi, a sales rep for Simon & Schuster, says "A Room of One's Own is such a shining example of inclusivity, activism, solidarity, and curation, and their social media presence takes that even further. This award is so well deserved."

In the midst of the pandemic, an entirely new challenge was presented to Room staff when a housing development planned for their building threatened to displace them. Treu and Lukes weathered this challenge by looking to their mission—serving their community. They moved the store to a walkable, neighborhood-driven location with easier access, positioning the business to play an even more transformative role in the lives of their customers.

When we reached out to Treu and Lukes to share the news of this award, they expressed heartfelt dedication to their team and described how it’s the collective force of their entire staff that allows them to thrive. “Many times, especially in times of high stress like when fielding blowback for standing up for trans people, some of the work--emotional and practical--has fallen on the staff as a whole. We run most major decisions past them and take their input and encourage their leadership and investment in the store. Our involvement as Room’s co-owners is sometimes an intentional stepping back and inviting our staff to take on ownership of the voice of the store to honor and bolster our presence.”

The staff of 10 is a tremendously positive force within Madison and beyond. Conor Moran, director of the Wisconsin Book Festival, says, “What I do at the Wisconsin Book Festival would not be possible without Gretchen, Wes, and everyone at A Room of One's Own. The professional relationship and personal friendships we've created over the past decade are second to none. It's perhaps even more inspiring to see how they make these connections in so many ways with staff, customers, and authors.”

Jason Gobble, sales manager at Penguin Random House, says the staff at A Room of One’s Own “truly believes books can make a difference, not only in individual lives but in the larger world. They talk the talk and walk the walk, as does their whole team of booksellers.” In 2019, Room staff member Misian Taylor inspired the store to create a remarkable fundraiser called Bookstores Against Borders that galvanized 124 fellow bookstores and small presses to nearly $100,000 in response to the Trump administration’s border policies that separated children from parents. During the Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd, Room expressed full support for the protestors, and when the holiday shopping season came around, they created a gift guide joyfully declaring their values through the empowering art of Black artist Terrence Adeyanju.

Quan Barry, author of We Ride Upon Sticks says, says “At every turn, Room has been a community leader in modeling what allyship and inclusivity can look like—not just in a business, but on the human level as well. Well before issues of social justice and equality became foregrounded in the national conversation, Room used its voice to showcase the books and authors who help us think through what it means to be a responsible citizen.”

As A Room of One’s Own opens its doors to its new location, we watch with excitement for what their next chapter will hold.

As Jason Gobble says, “With the store finally established in its gorgeous new space, the sky really is the limit.”

We look forward to celebrating A Room of One’s Own at our membership meeting held virtually on October 27 at 5 pm CDT.

Register to attend