February 7th, 2011
bookmobility

Over on a new blog by Chris Vargas at Original Plumbing, there’s a fantastic interview up with the artists responsible for the Miracle Bookmobile.  The bookmobile is a radical queer project devoted to distributing “queer materials, science fiction, radical political publications, zines, pulp, smut, local West Coast history, memoirs, books en español” and more.

The way its operators conceive of the project is particularly striking. From Kelly Besser and Irina Contreras:

We were inspired by the first bookmobile librarian Mary Titcomb’s promise, “The book goes to the man, not waiting for the man to come to the book!” Titcomb uttered these words in 1905 in rural western Maryland, yet they still resonate with us as we travel up and down the West Coast from Los Angeles to Oakland and back again. Along our journey, in most places, there are no bookstores. Period. And if Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed elimination of $30.4 million in state funding for California public libraries gets approved, we will be approaching Fahrenheit 451. Our hope for The Miracle is to create new reading spaces altogether. Books are donated to us; we take them on the road, pull up in neighborhoods and then give them to folks for FREE. We are redistributing books and ideas up and down the Golden Coast. This idea of redistribution extends Titcomb’s strategy around the Book while providing access to hidden histories which may otherwise be forgotten, rewritten, or destroyed. We actively collect queer materials, science fiction, radical political publications, zines, pulp, smut, local West Coast history, memoirs, books en español and anything you love reading and wanna share. People are able to walk up to the bookmobile in its various incarnations and know that they are entering another kind of physical space. We both have our share of meaningful bookmobile conversations around a myriad of subjects with amazing people who we may never see again. There is hopefulness in these encounters.

This—the way moving print can design new forms of community and contest older, exclusive ones—is exactly what I am exploring in my dissertation. This interview is a powerful reminder of the political and communal ramifications of “bookmobility.”

Indeed, the Miracle Bookmobile joins a long history of activists using mobile print to create new ways of belonging.  A number of African American intellectuals during the 1920s and 1930s, for example, distributed black history and literature in attempts to bring light to their own “hidden histories which may otherwise [have] be[en] forgotten, rewritten, or destroyed.”

The deliberate thought and enthusiastic creativity with which Besser and Contreras approach their work, and the richness of the communities they both draw on and shape through it, make the Miracle Bookmobile one of the most interesting and provocative radical projects happening right now. I’m excited to see what happens next.

This is a site about information in motion.

I'm Derek Attig, a director of communications at a non-profit and scholar of media history and American Studies. I am writing a book about bookmobiles in America.

I was a 2012 Google Policy Fellow. I'm also a contributor to Book Riot.

You can also follow me on Twitter @bookmobility or explore the menu tabs at the top of the site to find syllabi, links, and other information.

Comments? Questions? Ideas? Contact me at derekattig[at]gmail.com or @bookmobility

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