Lauren Groff, author of the Lambda Literary award finalist novel Matrix (which was also one of Autostraddle’s best books of 2021), is opening a new bookstore in Gainesville, Florida this year called The Lynx. Fittingly named after one of Florida’s two native wildcats, The Lynx will focus especially on titles being banned in Florida, LGTBQ+ books, and books by Florida writers. Groff is opening the store alongside her husband Clay Kallman.
And if it seems random that I’m writing about super hyperlocal news of a bookstore opening in central Florida, I assure you it’s not. Florida is obviously at the epicenter of the book ban efforts sweeping the nation. And as I keep writing over and over in my missives on politics in the state where I live, for starters, Florida does not exist in a vacuum; anything happening here has ripple effects outward, and the state is often explicitly used as a test case for the ruling class to see how much they can get away with. In addition to that, coverage of Florida — especially when it comes to buzzy topics like book bans — is incomplete when it only focuses on the bad things and not the efforts to push back against them. “Florida Has the Second Most Book Bans in the Country” is apparently a more enticing headline than “New Independent Bookstore Celebrating Banned Books Opens in Florida,” but it doesn’t have to be that way! We can look at all the nuances of this state in order to better understand how these things happen and how to undo them.
One bookstore isn’t going to change everything, but it’s a significant reminder there are people fighting for this place and especially for its arts and culture spaces. Florida is experiencing a brain drain of educators, thinkers, artists, and writers, and I don’t fault anyone for leaving (especially as a transplant myself). But by opening a bookstore here, Groff is doing what I hope more Florida-based artists will do and insisting the answer isn’t to leave but rather to improve, to speak out against book bans and the far-reaching fascist policies they engender and create spaces where queer and trans art can thrive.
Earlier this year, I wrote about anarchist independent bookstore Firestorm Books’ initiative to get banned books, especially queer and trans titles, back into the hands of Florida youth through the radical redistribution project Banned Books Back! Firestorm’s ambitious project has me feeling hopeful, especially as it’s an instance of a group outside of Florida deciding to invest in the community here instead of just writing it off as hopeless. And every time a new indie bookstore opens in Florida with a goal to specifically champion LGBTQ and BIPOC authors as well as banned titles, it’s a thrill. The opening of The Lynx — a “bookstore that bites back,” according to its indiegogo campaign — isn’t merely a one-off project aimed at the Florida community but rather an ongoing physical space where people will not only be able to get queer and trans books but also have access to programming centering such titles.
The Lynx promises to be an events-driven store, and in addition to platforming Florida authors, I look forward to the bookstore bringing outside authors into the state. While I do understand any concerns about one’s personal safety when it comes to trans artists, it always bums me out when I hear about artists who say they won’t do events in Florida, which usually just punishes queer and trans people living in Florida with little effect on the people who set the transphobic and queerphobic legislative agenda here. The Lynx will be just one of several great indies in the state celebrating LGBTQ books, and I hope more authors will realize how meaningful it is to visit a state where there are so many attempts to limit queer art.
There are, of course, limits to privatized spaces like a bookstore, but independent bookstores that also operate as community spaces aren’t only important in the face of book bans targeting schools and libraries but also just for the entire literary ecosystem, especially when it comes to books by. (I’m slightly biased; independent bookstores are the only shops that stock my own weird queer horror novelette.)
The Lynx will join the likes of Loudmouth Books, another author-owned bookstore specializing in banned books located in Indianapolis (Indiana libraries have been hit hard by book bans, too) and founded by Leah Johnson. It’s hard out here for indie bookstores though, especially as Amazon continues to decimate the book industry. One of my favorite indies in the country, Loyalty Books in DC, also highlights queer and trans books as well as books by authors of color and recently had to fundraise to stay afloat and ensure a more stable future. The Lynx is currently fundraising to help raise local and national awareness of the store and to support the costs of its buildout. There are several fundraiser perks available to folks, including a couple from yours truly. I’m offering a mini mentorship for an LGBTQ nonfiction writer. Also available as a perk is a Big Gay Night Out in Orlando with me and New York Times bestselling author Kristen Arnett (oh right, who’s also my fiancée). Whoever snags this perk can bring a +1 to hang out with us at our favorite spots in town for a night. Kristen is also offering some additional perks, and writers like Kaveh Akbar and Dantiel W. Moniz are offering perks as well. And you better believe once The Lynx open, Kristen and I will be making the journey from Orlando to Gainesville often!