Purpose and Profit in the Feminist Book Trade with Jane Cholmeley & Lesley Wood

Join us for a special project event, with The Feminist Bookshop, 48 Upper North Street, Brighton, BN1 3FH

Saturday 9 March 2024 7.30-9.00pm

“A woman must have a money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Virginia Woolf

And a feminist bookshop must have the same, if it is to share diverse voices, support favourite authors, be a place of discovery and joy. But how do we balance purpose and profit? Is it possible to fight against capitalism at the same time as asking customers to pay for goods? Can the feminist book trade survive in the face of retail giants like Amazon?

To explore these questions and so much more, we are delighted to welcome Jane Cholmeley, co-founder of Silver Moon, to The Feminist Bookshop. In her new book, A Bookshop of One’s Own, Jane shares what it was like to start a feminist bookshop in the 1980s against a backdrop of homophobia and misogyny and to grow it into Europe’s biggest women’s bookshop, while contributing to one of the biggest social movements of our time. 

Jane will be in conversation with Lesley Wood, who has worked in the arts for over 35 years and is Chief Executive of New Writing South. The discussion will be chaired by Margaretta Jolly, who directs the Business of Women’s Words project. This research explores how organisations in the Women’s Movement in the 1970s-1990s sought to reconcile financial imperatives with political, artistic and egalitarian commitments.

Jane, Lesley and Margaretta will share their thoughts on how tensions between purpose and profit can be navigated, and how the challenges faced have evolved, morphed and developed in recent years. They will then open up to audience questions so we can explore this quandary together.

Tickets are £5 or £16.99 including a copy of A Bookshop of One’s Own

We can’t wait to see you there!

This event is hosted in partnership with the University of Sussex, with funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

A Bookshop of One’s Own

The captivating true story of an underdog business – a feminist bookshop founded in Thatcher’s Britain – from a woman at the heart of the women’s liberation movement.

An Independent and Stylist Best Non-Fiction Book for 2024

What was it like to start a feminist bookshop, in an industry dominated by men? How could a lesbian thrive in Thatcher’s time, with the government legislating to restrict her rights? How do you run a business when your real aim is to change the world?

Silver Moon was the dream of three women – a bookshop with the mission to promote the work of female writers and create a much-needed safe space for any woman. Founded in 1980s London against a backdrop of homophobia and misogyny, it was a testament to the power of community, growing into Europe’s biggest women’s bookshop and hosting a constellation of literary stars from Margaret Atwood and Maya Angelou to Angela Carter. While contending with day-to-day struggles common to other booksellers, plus the additional burdens of misogyny and the occasional hate crime, Jane Cholmeley and her booksellers created a thriving business. But they also played a crucial and relatively unsung part in one of the biggest social movements of our time.

A Bookshop of One’s Own is a fascinating slice of social history from the heart of the women’s liberation movement, from a true feminist and lesbian icon. Written with heart and humour, it reveals the struggle and joy that comes with starting an underdog business, while being a celebration of the power women have to change the narrative when they are the ones holding the pen.


Jane Cholmeley

Jane Cholmeley is a key figure in British feminism and books, the co-founder of Silver Moon Women’s Bookshop, which became the largest of its kind in Europe.

Her 40-year book trade career began at Yale University Press, followed by Macdonald Educational, which was then acquired by Robert Maxwell. She refused to work for him and instead took an M.A. in women’s studies.

Jane opened Silver Moon with her then partner Sue Butterworth and Jane Anger in 1984 and it became a vibrant centre of women’s writing, hosting prestigious events with authors such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Atwood, and Sandi Toksvig, who nominated Jane Cholmeley as a Gay Icon in the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition of that name in 2009.

Silver Moon created a safe space for women and proudly made women’s writing central and visible on the best bookselling street in the world.


Lesley Wood

Lesley has worked in the arts for over 35 years in a variety of roles including sound engineer, theatre producer, artistic director and company CEO. She has worked with creative writers of all kinds – fiction writers, life writers, poets, song-writers and playwrights. She, herself, writes grant applications and too-long emails, and is in awe of the storytellers she meets every day at New Writing South.

The Business of Women’s Words 

The Business of Women’s Words: Purpose and Profit in Feminist Publishing (BOWW) explores the dramatic story of the feminist publishing revolution that unfolded during the UK Women’s Movements of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, and their legacies for social movement inspired creative industries today. This four-year research project (2018-2021), funded by the Leverhulme Trust, looks at the contrasting histories and fortunes of legendary enterprises such as Virago Press and Spare Rib.

It examines how activists called upon cultural and creative business activities to help promote their aims despite feminists’ general antipathy and sometimes hostility to capitalist methods and ideologies. The research unearths activists’ efforts to infuse purpose with profit and to reconcile business and financial imperatives with political, artistic and egalitarian commitments, bringing life to archival treasures at The British Library. The research brings fresh perspectives to the history of feminism, which has previously focused on identities and campaigns, by considering the ways that feminists’ ethical and socialist economic strategies related to creative and entrepreneurial successes.

The Business of Women’s Words also explores the business investments and state support behind feminist cultural production and the hidden role of personal and private income, transnational networking, collective ‘crowd sourcing’, unpaid time, labour and care.


Margaretta Jolly

Margaretta Jolly is Professor of Cultural Studies in the School of Media, Arts and Humanities, University of Sussex and directs the University’s Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research. She is author of Sisterhood and After: An Oral History of the UK Women’s Liberation Movement (OUP, 2019), based on the archive she helped create in partnership with the British Library. She leads the research project The Business of Women’s Words: Purpose and Profit in Feminist Publishing.

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Feminist Book Fortnight 2022 launches with publication of Feminist Book Fortnight: A Short History

At Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham, Tuesday, 10 May 2022

A new history of a pioneering feminist book promotion of the 1980s, Feminist Book Fortnight, was published as this year’s revived event got underway.

Feminist Book Fortnight 2022 featured events across the country from 14-28 May.

It was launched with a livestreamed event from Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham on Tuesday 10 May 2022.

Bookseller Jane Anger and the history’s author Eleanor Careless explored the Fortnight’s history, its activist aims, distinctive regionalism, and relationship with the capitalist literary marketplace.

Feminist Book Fortnight initially ran from 1984-1991, evolving from the flourishing women’s movements of the time. It was revived in 2018 by radical bookseller Jane Anger and colleagues at Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham, with events in the UK and abroad.

Feminist Book Fortnight: A Short History has been written by former Sussex University research fellow Dr Eleanor Careless, supported by Professor Margaretta Jolly as part of the Leverhulme-funded project ‘The Business of Women’s Words: Purpose and Profit in Feminist Publishing’.

The history weaves together oral histories from feminist booksellers and activists, original archival findings, and the nationwide network of Fortnight events revealed by the Spare Rib map (developed as part of ‘The Business of Women’s Words project and hosted by the British Library).

Margaretta Jolly, Professor of Cultural Studies in the School of Media, Arts and Humanities at the University of Sussex, said: “It is wonderful to see the return of this celebration of all things feminist, womanist and bookish. It’s equally wonderful to learn more about the history of Feminist Book Fortnight.”

Feminist Book Fortnight ran from 14-28 May 2022. Details of all the associated programming, can be found on Feminist Book Fortnight’s website.

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The Fab Feminist Festive Fair 9 Dec 2021

Karolina Szpyrko, PhD researcher at the School of Media, Arts, and Humanities, writes:

“I loved getting involved in this pre-holiday showcase of ethical, feminist business at the University of Sussex.

Our Fab Feminist Festive Fair brought together educational and sales stalls (The Feminist Bookshop, The Craft Society, The New Internationalist, The Careers and Entrepreneurship Centre, Leave No Trace Society), and I designed a follow-on Crafty Workshop with activist badge-making and festive crafts.

The Students’ Union kindly supported the fair, hosting it in Falmer House Reception. Its lively, central feel worked very well with our fair, making it into a little neighbourly market with snacks, activist-inspired gifts, crafts and other curiosities as well as chats about ethical business, feminism and winter holidays.

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Mapping feminist loneliness

Feminism is sustained by collective organising but women have often been driven to campaign by a sense of loneliness. This is my surprising finding while working with The Business of Women’s Words project (BOWW) and exploring the hidden history of feminist enterprise in the many independent magazines, journals, imprints, bookshops and other small creative businesses which the movement enabled – and which also enabled the movement, despite a general antipathy to capitalism.

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Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights

BOWW has made a significant contribution to the British Library’s new landmark exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, which shows how feminist activism in the UK today has roots in a long, complex and compelling history of struggle.

The BOWW principal investigator Margaretta Jolly, Professor of Cultural Studies in the School of Media, Arts and Humanities, co-edited the exhibition book, working with Dr Polly Russell, lead curator at the British Library.

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Selling ‘books that change lives’: Talking to Gail Hewison of The Feminist Bookshop, Sydney

By Rosa Campbell

In the oral history interviews I have recorded with those involved in the Australian Women’s Liberation Movement, The Feminist Bookshop, Sydney, comes up again and again. Jane Bullen, active in Canberra Women’s Liberation, spoke of coming to Sydney for a weekend “part of what you did was go to The Feminist Bookshop and pick up a little pile of books which were not available anywhere else.” Gail Shelston, the first Women’s Officer for The Teacher’s Federation – the NSW teaching union- remarked that this bookshop “was there for me at every stage of my life. It was there for me, you know.”

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The commerce of romance: from Edwardian to Second Wave feminism

The talk I gave on Friday 14 June 2019 at the National is about courtship and forbidden love in the Edwardian period (mostly) and is linked to the theatre’s showing of Githa Sowerby’s Rutherford and Son (1912). It’s a fascinating play for its contribution to one of the hottest debates around marriage and society at the time: the way patriarchy, capitalism and the logics of family finance and consolidation all conspired to make marriage a ‘trade’ in which women, essentially property, inevitably got ripped off. 

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Feminist Maps and Mapping Feminism

Feminist Maps and Mapping Feminism: Lessons from The Women’s Atlas

Sussex Humanities Lab with the CLHLWR

With legendary geographer Joni Seager

Thursday 23 May 2019, 15.00-17.00pm

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The Virago Story – an interview with Catherine Riley

Earlier in the summer D-M caught up with Catherine Riley whose new book The Virago Story: Assessing the Impact of a Feminist Publishing Phenomenon was published this year by Berghahn Books.
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Feminist Book Fortnight 1984 and 2018: An interview with Jane Anger

Jane Anger is a feminist who has worked in the booktrade for 40 years. She helped found the legendary Silver Moon Bookshop and was an early member of Women in Publishing, a feminist network for women in the book business. In 2018 she coordinated the revival of an iconic initiative of the 1980s, Feminist Book Fortnight. As she explains to BOWW lead, Margaretta Jolly:

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