Bridging the Digital Divide: Being a political activist bookseller

Photo of Anjula Gogia.

Anjula Gogia is the events coordinator at Another Story Bookshop in Roncesvalles. She's also the former co-manager of the Toronto Women’s Bookstore (1996-2006). She has worked with PEN Canada and Between the Lines Press. She has an interest in supporting and promoting writing by diverse voices. She has sat on literary juries for the Ontario Arts Council and the Writers' Trust of Canada (Dayne Ogilvie Prize).

Anjula will be speaking on a panel at Tech Forum 2018 in a session called Retailers Bridging the Digital Divide.

In June 2017 I fulfilled a 15-year book-selling dream: hosting the Toronto book launch for South Asian writer, activist, and novelist Arundhati Roy. The event was held at Bloor Street United Church in downtown Toronto. The venue was chosen carefully for its size, accessibility, and affordability, but also its reputation as a social justice-oriented church.

The event was a success; Ms. Roy was charming, brilliant, incisive, and warm. She was interviewed by local filmmaker Ali Kazimi. Over 1,000 people suffered through the heat to hear her read.

The event was a culmination of my 20 years as a political activist bookseller: first as co-manager of the Toronto Women’s Bookstore (1996-2006) and most recently as events coordinator for Another Story Bookshop. During this time, I have organized countless events for writers — literary writers, activists, intellectuals, scholars. Over the past 10 years, I've had to grapple with new technology and social media to organize and promote these events. The platforms I use now — email newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — all have to be monitored and built daily. As users of social media know, it's a never-ending game of building followers, liking others to encourage them to like and follow you, reading news feeds to see the latest trends, and building online communities of writers and activists with similar goals and interests to our store. As all event organizers know, the best event is nothing without an audience.

For each event I need to consider many factors: What's the best venue? Who'll be the best moderator for a conversation? And most importantly, who can I partner with to get the word out and the community involved? Arranging co-sponsorships with community groups is a key element in organizing, framing, and promoting an event. For example, a recent book launch for UK political graphic cartoonist Kate Evans included partnerships with Amnesty International, Romero House, and the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University. The promotional support was invaluable; the event had a great turnout considering the author was not well-known in Toronto.

Being a political activist bookseller has combined the best possible worlds for me: my love of books and my passion for change and social justice. I know I’m in the right place every time.

If you'd like to hear more from Anjula Gogia and the panel about retailers bridging the digital divide, register for Tech Forum, March 23, 2018 in Toronto. You can find more details about the conference here, or sign up for our mailing list to get all of the conference updates.