WEATHER ALERT

Osborne Street bookstore adds to neighbourhood

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Martin Luther King Jr., a male ballet dancer and rainbow-coloured dinosaurs room together off Osborne Street.

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Martin Luther King Jr., a male ballet dancer and rainbow-coloured dinosaurs room together off Osborne Street.

Not the physical beings — the children’s book and keychain versions.

Near King Jr., a dog leads a rainbow flag-waving crowd on the cover of Pride Puppy! and a Black astronaut reads novels on the moon (Margot and the Moon Landing is the book’s title).

Megan Wray (left) and Meghan Malcolm, Willow Press owner, stand in the shop. Malcolm and Wray have visited schools for writing tutorials and book readings. Willow also hosts workshops on sex education and art therapy, among other things. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)
Megan Wray (left) and Meghan Malcolm, Willow Press owner, stand in the shop. Malcolm and Wray have visited schools for writing tutorials and book readings. Willow also hosts workshops on sex education and art therapy, among other things. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

“Every book feels like it has been carefully selected,” said customer Susan Cuvelier.

She stumbled upon Willow when it opened in South Osborne around a year and a half ago. The space had previously fit one ATM — it was a one-customer-at-a-time operation.

Last summer, Willow migrated to a black and pink house at 214 Osborne St., near Confusion Corner.

Cuvelier has followed the bookstore. There, she’s found adult fantasy series and her favourite graphic novel, The Prince and the Dressmaker.

The prince wears dresses. He hires a female dressmaker and the two fall in love.

The novel covers important topics using entertainment and “the most beautiful illustrations,” Cuvelier said.

“You get to see things (in Willow) that you might not find in other places,” she said.

That’s the goal.

“I wanted to kind of pendulum swing it,” said Meghan Malcolm, the shop’s owner. “I want you to walk in and see (underrepresented people) represented.”

Malcolm identifies as queer; they use she and they pronouns. Finding books about pride and BIPOC groups has historically been limited to special interest sections, they noted.

“It’s important for us to hear narratives and stories that are similar to our own,” said Joseph Moore, Rainbow Resource Centre’s director of services.

The LGBTTQ+ support hub buys books from Willow.

“When queer and trans stories aren’t prioritized in the mainstream, that can be really isolating,” Moore said. “Having those stories of queer and trans excellence… allows us to actually envision our future.”

Malcolm watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a child and identified with Willow, the first queer character they’d seen.

“I had this huge, ‘Oh my God, there’s somebody like me’ moment,” Malcolm said.

They wrote fantasy stories while in school, but the hobby took a backseat during early adulthood. Malcolm co-owned a different business at the time.

They picked up the pen again to write about their experience giving birth to their first daughter.

“It reminded me how important (writing) is to me,” they said.

Soon, Malcolm was compiling works for an anthology about Gabrielle Funk, a local artist. They wanted to self-publish and needed a publishing company name.

Willow Press was born, an homage to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Since then, Malcolm has published several pieces, including a series of reimagined fairy tales for adults and Marian, a children’s book with a spin on Robin Hood.

“My oldest (daughter) loved princesses so much,” Malcolm said. “I was honestly really embarrassed to show her any of the princess stories that existed, so I made a new one.”

In recent years, Malcolm began looking for a job that allowed for writing, community and flexibility.

They bought several books with a tax refund and began Willow in South Osborne. It planted roots in September of 2021.

Still, Malcolm was craving more community connection.

Willow hosted a drag queen story time in Little Sister Coffee Maker — people couldn’t crowd around a reader in the former ATM site.

“It gave us that itch to have our own space,” Malcolm said.

So, last summer, Malcolm found the Osborne Village building and packed their books with Megan Wray, Willow’s only other employee.

“I’ve totally cried reading some of the kids’ books,” Wray said. “(It’s) just like, ‘Wow, this would’ve changed my life if it existed when I was a kid.’”

It was hard to fulfil large school orders in the old space, Wray stated. Schools ask Willow for suggestions — they need sex-education novels featuring stories with queer leads.

Malcolm and Wray have visited schools for writing tutorials and book readings.

Willow also hosts workshops on sex education and art therapy, among other things.

“I’m really, really upset at the lack of sex education,” Malcolm said, sitting near shelves of novels on sexuality and the body.

Selling such content has made financing difficult, Malcolm noted. Willow isn’t eligible for several grants because it carries products deemed sexual, they said.

“Everyone’s just kind of having a hard time financially. We’re feeling that.”

A community GoFundMe, which raised nearly $6,000 last year, helped renovate Willow’s new location. This week, Malcolm has asked customers to support the shop in various ways, when they can.

Malcolm launched a blog of personal writing on Substack Sunday. Subscriptions, at $5 per month, go to the store.

Lily Klos sat on a seafoam green bench in Willow on Tuesday. She’s a Grade 9 student and intern who dreams of being an author and entrepreneur.

She practises creative writing in the shop, but has one word for Willow: “slay.”

gabrielle.piche@winnipegfreepress.com

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Reporter

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

History

Updated on Thursday, February 9, 2023 10:01 AM CST: Fixes cutline, corrects acronym to LGBTTQ+

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