An arts journalist turned rare books dealer has created an online store devoted to women writers and plans to open a bookshop in Soho.
A N Devers (below right), a writer and rare book dealer based in London, first had the idea of the ‘The Second Shelf’ in 2014. Following four years of honing her experience at book fairs across Britain and creating a £33,000-winning Kickstarter campaign, she will launch a web platform for rare, collectable books by women next month. At the same time, she will also launch a books catalogue/literary journal, to run quarterly, with the first issue featuring Lauren Groff and Joanna Walsh.
A brick and mortar store in Soho is also being finalised, slated to open in October with space for around 3,000 books and regular literary events. Devers plans to run it five days a week, from Tuesday to Sunday between 10am and 5pm, and hopes to take on staff.
As well as rare books, modern first editions, and rediscovered works by women, it will sell new titles which Devers considers “future classics”. She hopes it will encourage people to start building collections of modern contemporary writers. The store will also sell merchandise including branded tote bags, limited edition prints, bookmarks and publications related to feminism.
Devers said: “It’s a small store, less than 300 sq ft, it’s cosy but with enough space to have events for 25 people or so with a small courtyard outside. It was something I wanted in a few years’ time but the opportunity was offered to me fortuitously.
“It will be a feminist bookshop, but the focus will be rare books and modern first editions - lot of literature and non-fiction and significant work by women across all subjects," Devers said. She declined to give the exact location as the property is still being finalised.
Meanwhile the project's new journal, The Second Shelf: A Quarterly of Rare Books and Words by Women, will launch next month after originally being planned as just a rare books catalogue.
The former arts journalist told The Bookseller that the The Second Shelf project aims to preserve female authors’ legacy. “It may seem like a small action but we need to say that women’s first editions are important and should get a place on my bookshelf. It’s an important step,” she said. “To help protect these writers legacies, we should collect them."
"I’m trying to define the market and say this is an important thing, and to lead the charge. I’m not saying men should not collect books by women, I hope that they will. It seems like even if a woman writer’s contribution is acknowledged then it seems hard for her to get her space in the literary canon."
Devers, whose own book Train will be published by Bloomsbury next year, described how collecting books and literary artefacts from women writers meant that they would be more likely to be preserved in university collections, used as research material and be featured on syllabus reading lists.
“My business is trying to help provide a personal solution for people who care about those writers and their works," Devers said. "Women have been so left out of rare book collecting for the most part, the ABAA [Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America] is 85% male, most the industry are male. Antique book collecting is seen as precious and nostalgic, and I understand that. I want to provide a loving and practical thing to do for women writers… It means we can do something quite special with their collections.”
Devers also described how authors such as Jean Rhys, Iris Murdoch and Angela Carter are seen as more valuable in the rare books industry in Britain than US mid-century authors, such as Shirley Jackson, are in the America. She plans to do business between London and New York so that both sides of the pond are able to collect works by significant writers.
Last year she wrote a Longreads piece, 'This is How a Woman is Erased From Her Job', about how the Paris Review's former editor Brigid Hughes was apparently omitted from the magazine's history as its second editor. Devers’ piece led to corrections in various newspapers and magazines and the reinstatement of Hughes's name to the masthead as a former editor of the Paris Review in the Spring 2018 issue.
For more information, visit thesecondshelf.com.