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How a Great Shakespeare Festival Helped Destroy a Unique Bookstore

November 4, 2016
By

bookstore-window-horizontal-2-img_4549For several years, I have been visiting a little bookstore in Ashland, Oregon, home of the excellent Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Alas, that will longer be possible.

The bookstore, Shakespeare Books and Antiques, is or rather was a labour of love for owner Judy Honoré, a septuagenarian bookworm, who has delighted in offering the public a taste of something different.

For example, she had long been researching banned books – why they were banned, where, and by whom. She then produced a fairly comprehensive list and began buying many of these books for display in her store.

The purpose was not so much to sell the books, as it was to expose the public to the history of banning and to provide an educational experience for curiosity seekers like me who share Honoré’s bookish interests and appreciate her initiative.

Certainly Shakespeare’s own work, perhaps most notably The Tempest, which many readers find disturbingly anti-Semitic, was among Honoré’s collection. So were Mein Kampf, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Little Black Sambo.

The cover of Sambo, a racist children’s book, in the bookstore window offended some of OSF’s staff members and they approached Honoré with their complaint. They discussed it and reached an amicably compromise. Nevertheless, OSF executive director Cynthia Rider ordered her staff not to purchase festival-related items from the bookstore.

Now, thanks to Rider’s persistent efforts, Honoré has given up the fight. As of October 31, this little gem of a bookstore is closed.

The boycott came as a surprise to many and seems ironic to those who have long appreciated OSF’s willingness to stage theatrical works that deal with progressive social issues. Last year, for example, Sweat, an examination of how free trade agreements destroyed two Pennsylvania families and a once thriving industrial community, had its world premiere there.

I’m sure Honoré will find another more welcoming venue to display her many excellent titles, including a good collection of the Bard’s plays, but OSF’s fine reputation for exposing theater lovers to controversial social issues has been thrown into question by Rider’s actions.

The story is well told in the attached article, so I won’t go into further detail.

In Oregon, Theatre and Bookstore Clash Over Free Speech & Racial Awareness

 

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