WHAT IS WORD UP?
Word Up is a multilingual, general-interest community bookshop and arts space in Washington Heights, New York City, committed to preserving and building a neighborhood in which all residents help each other to live better informed and more expressive lives, using books as an instrument of reciprocal education and exchange, empowering not only themselves, but their community.
Word Up is 100% run by volunteers. By hosting literary readings, music concerts, film screenings, theater productions, art openings, workshops, community meetings and talks, language salons, and other activities for kids and adults, we do our best to support and fortify the creative spirit unique to our diverse, uptown community.
Word Up is a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization Seven Stories Institute, whose mission is to provide necessary books to communities that do not otherwise have access to them, to stimulate discussion of important policy issues within those communities who have the most to lose in the current political and economic crises but have the least access to the terms of the debate.
HOW DID WORD UP START?
In operation since June 17, 2011, Word Up was intended to be a 1-month program in an empty storefront on Broadway at 176 Street. A local resident worked with arts service organization Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA) to use space donated by the landlord; community publisher Fractious Press to solicit books for initial inventory; book-access organization Seven Stories Institute (SSI) to set up the infrastructure of the bookshop; and neighbors associated with Uptown Collective; Fractious Press; People’s Theatre Project; Music for Daze; UpWord Communications; Washington Heights Free Radio; Sunday Best Reading Series; Kaboom! Press; and World War 3 Illustrated for infrastructure, staffing, promotion, and more. Neighbors spoke up about their need for this space, and we were granted free extensions from our landlord through November. Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance then signed a rental agreement on our behalf, and we held onto it until August 31, 2012, when our lease was terminated. The once-empty storefront was put on the rental market at a much higher rate.
The Word Up volunteer collective launched a successful Indiegogo campaign in November 2012, raising more than $60,000 to bring back Word Up Community Bookshop in a permanent location. We reopened at our current location on July 26, 2013. Come visit us at 2113 Amsterdam Avenue, at the corner of 165th Street. Our current hours are in the left sidebar of this website.
More information about Word Up’s beginnings can be found in this Moby Lives interview. You can read more about Word Up on our Press page. We have been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, the Manhattan Times, the NY Daily News, DNAinfo, WNET, Publishers Weekly, El Diario, Care2.com, Examiner.com, and many other publications. Word Up has also been featured on radio (WBAI, WFMU, and local online stations); and on television (Ohayo Nippon [Good Morning Japan], CUNY TV, DominicanYorkTV, and Telemundo).
WHO IS WORD UP?
The Word Up/Seven Stories Institute staff is 100% volunteer-powered,Word Up is 100% volunteer-operated by a collective of diverse booksellers of all ages, hailing from the United States, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Canada, Israel, Argentina, Nigeria, Guatemala, and Pakistan. Many of us are longtime residents of Washington Heights, and we are all committed to preserving and building a neighborhood in which all residents help each other to live better informed and more expressive lives. Together we have distributed tens of thousands of books, hosted thousands of performers in all arts disciplines, and co-programmed a literary festival and other special events. We collectively manage a space that is open to the public 6 days a week, and have been named as one of “50 Reasons Why NYC Is the Greatest City in the World” (Time Out), “NYC’s 5 Best Used Bookstores 2014” (CBS),”Best of New York City” (Time Out), and “Best New Independent Bookstores NYC” (Time Out). Help keep Word Up viable as a place of shared learning and creativity with YOUR contributions—join us!
We thrive on the love and support from uptown organizations such as Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance—an original cosponsor of Word Up whose mission is to cultivate, support and, promote the works of artists and arts organizations in Northern Manhattan; Uptown Collective; People’s Theatre Project; Fractious Press, Music for Daze; UpWord Communications; Washington Heights Free Radio; the Sunday Best Reading Series; Kaboom! Press; World War 3 Illustrated; United Palace of Cultural Arts; Bread and Yoga/Om Grown Holiday Market; Fresh Youth Initiatives and Fresh Press; and Da Urban Butterflies. We have shared our space with uptown groups we love such as No Name NYC, Young Urban Moms, the Bago Bunch, Cayena Publications, InQbator, the Above the Bridge Reading Series, and the People’s Theatre Project/Seven Stories Institute after-school program Voices: Our Young People Speak, which has involved scores of local teens and resulted in 4 plays and 4 published books.
From the bookselling and publishing communities, we are grateful for the generous donations and support from friends and colleagues at Seven Stories Press, La Casa Azul Bookstore, McNally Jackson Books, Great Jones Books, Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books, Distributed Art Publishers, Scholastic, Simon and Schuster, St. Martin’s, Viking Penguin, and W. W. Norton.
From our surrounding blocks, local businesses who have shared their resources include Canvas Society, Pick and Eat, Cachapas Y Mas, Mambi Steak House, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Le Chéile, Chipotle, Coogan’s Restaurant, El Bacan, Mario’s Burgers, Palo, Patagonia Wines and Spirits, Columbia Wines, El Presidente, Saggio’s, Sano Health Food Center, Toast, Victor’s Bicycle, Buddha Beer Bar, and Bravo Supermarket.
And of course we would be nowhere without our neighbors, who have contributed everything from time, ingenuity, change (in both the lofty and “Keep the change” varieties), sundry items, sweat, and stories. Uptown, you are creative ones! If we’d have been able to write down everything that has passed here in our first 10 months, embracing the tangents, snatching up passersby with ears pricked for the babies and grandmas, we might have made enough new books to fill another whole bookstore. Or, at least enough for a hearty window display.