Beyond a Bookshop

12th June 2019

News, Student news

Shining a spotlight on Italy's first feminist bookshop, graduate student Jasmine Anouna reports on the legacy of 'Libreria'.

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    Photos by Emma Stevenson

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"On May 28th, I hosted the exhibition Beyond a Bookshop: Exploring the Historic Legacy of the First Feminist Bookshop in Italy precisely to address these questions; to underscore the fundamental legacy of the first feminist bookshop in Italy, the Milan Women’s Bookshop, ‘Libreria.’ The Libreria was the first official public space for women in Italy, and since its founding in 1975, it has held a versatile political presence shaping local and national intellectual landscapes. Beyond its work in translating, publishing, and disseminating fundamental feminist writings, the bookshop was and continues to be a unique space of dialogue, confrontation, and connection for feminists locally and globally.

Thanks to the generous support of the Elvira Badaracco Foundation, a foundation that aims to promote the study of women's political and cultural history in Italy, I featured copies of historic documents and articles that provided a detailed historical overview of the Libreria’s cultural and political contributions."

To best convey the international relevance of the bookshop, Jasmine (MSt Women’s Studies, 2018) collected testimonies from women around the world who were influenced by the Libreria and who were willing to share their experiences with the group. While some of the written testimonies hung in the main atrium of the MCR together with the achieve documents, she integrated the video submissions together in a brief compilation entitled ‘In Their Own Words’ that was screened midway through the event. One testimony from Giovanna Parmigiani, Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard Divinity School read:

“My encounter with the Libreria was life-changing for me in many ways. First, as a consequence of it, I decided to change the topic of my PhD research in Cultural Anthropology from conscientious objection in Israel to the politics of representation among Italian feminists. Second, in engaging with the intellectual production of the Libreria and with several women linked, at different levels, with it, I became a stronger, and better, human being. In sum, it was a transformative experience: both humbling and empowering.”

Jasmine continues: "A panel discussion brought to life, quite literally, the history put forth in the displayed materials thanks to the presence of two of the Libreria’s founders: Laura Minguzzi and Renata Sarfati. Together with the founders, we discussed a vast range of topics from the way the philosophy of ‘sexual difference’ shaped the Libreria’s political activity, to the future of the bookshop and its relationship to the online dimension. Our guests contributed a unique mix of perspectives; while younger members were interested in the Libreria’s relationship to contemporary movements including ‘Non una di meno’ against gender-based violence, some from older generations expressed a personal solidarity with the Libreria’s history, such as Judith Okely, the first woman ever to be admitted to the Oxford Union. In the discussion, Okely shared that she had experienced a similar discrimination to the Libreria by forming an ‘autonomous conscious’ group and expressed her solidarity in the difficulty of pursuing separatist politics: “A top military man thought we were state subversives for having a consciousness raising group among us few isolated females.

In just under two hours, Wadham MCR shined the spotlight on a part of Italian history rarely, if ever, taught in Italian schools or found in traditional history textbooks on Italy. My greatest hope is that the conversation continues until the histories we discussed integrate wholly in the Italian collective imagination and beyond. 

My deep gratitude goes to Renata Sarfati, Laura Minguzzi, Teresa Franco, Valeria Taddei, Shawanda Corbett (whose wonderful artwork featured in the exhibit still hangs in the MCR!), Jane Garnett, Steffan Pedersen, University of Oxford, Wadham College, our MCR Committee, Ole & Steen Oxford, and to the 40+ guests for helping me bring this idea to life. More is yet to come!"