Betty Friedan. Gloria Steinem. Marilyn French.
Antigone Books, a tiny shop on North Fourth Avenue, was the go-to spot to find these feminist authors and related literature in the 1970s.
The locally owned shop now in a 4,500-square-foot space — still on North Fourth Avenue — will celebrate its 40th anniversary Saturday. One of the few feminist bookstores in the country still in operation, Antigone evolved into a community bookstore that responds to the diverse reading interests of its customers without abandoning its progressive roots or its role as an information resource, says co-owner Trudy Mills.
Antigone — like the Greek mythological character who defied masculine authority — got its start in 1973 when original owners Barbara Atwood, Pat Kelly and Jonnie Cunningham pooled $1,500 to open one of the first feminist bookstores in the country. Mills bought the store in 1986 and Kate Randall became a partner in 1990. There were two owners between the original group and Mills.
“What was considered radical in the 1970s is more accepted now,” says Mills. “In the 1970s it was hard to find a children’s book that didn’t feature the mother in the kitchen; now there are many of those books.
“In the 1980s publishers actually started marketing to feminist bookstores because they saw that women were after those types of books,” says Mills. The availability of those books mushroomed and extended to general and big-box bookstores. The casualty of success was feminist bookstores.
“We stayed in business because we diversified,” says Mills. The shop offers whimsical, inspirational items along with the books, not related to feminism or politics.
“Because feminism is more mainstream now, our store appears more mainstream, too,” Mills says. The store still has a feminism section and doesn’t stock anti-feminist works, but will special order them.
Before the Internet, Antigone’s bulletin boards were a source of information for local feminist and progressive activities. Even though the store’s bulletin boards do not play the key information role they once did, the store still acts as a community center when the times call for it, says Mills. For example, when the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program was under fire, Antigone provided information about the issue and the books that were banned from classrooms.
Antigone Books’ 40-year celebration with food and games is 1-5 p.m. Saturday. The cake will be cut at 2 p.m.