Oscar Wilde Bookshop

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Oscar Wilde Bookshop
FormerlyOscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop
IndustryLGBT bookstore
FoundedNovember 24, 1967 (1967-11-24)
FounderCraig Rodwell
DefunctMarch 29, 2009 (2009-03-29)
Headquarters15 Christopher Street, ,
United States
Area served
New York

The Oscar Wilde Bookshop was founded by Craig Rodwell on November 24, 1967 as the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop. Initially located at 291 Mercer Street,[1][2][3][4] moved in 1973 to the corner of Christopher Street and Gay Street in New York City's Greenwich Village neighborhood.[5]

The bookstore closed on March 29, 2009 citing the Great Recession and challenges from online bookstores.[6]


As a member and vice president of the Mattachine Society, Rodwell sought to make Mattachine more visible to gays and society at large by opening a storefront to cater to the growing local gay community.

I was trying to get the (Mattachine) Society to be out dealing with the people instead of sitting in an office. We even looked at a few storefronts. I wanted the Society to set up a combination bookstore, counseling services, fund-raising headquarters, and office. The main thing was to be out on the street.[7][8]

Advertisement for the Bookshop which ran in Queen's Quarterly magazine in 1968. Pictured are Fred Sargeant (l.) and Craig Rodwell.

Rodwell did not consider himself to be a bookseller businessman but, rather, a person who at the age of 13 set out to help change the world's view of gay people and of gay people's own self-image.[8] Despite a limited selection of materials when the bookstore was first established, Rodwell refused to stock pornography and instead favored literature by gay and lesbian authors.[9][10] On how he chose the shop's name, Rodwell said:

I wanted a name that would tell people what the shop was about. So I tried to think of the most prominent person whose name I could use who is most readily identifiable as a Homosexual by most people, someone who's sort of a pseudo-martyr. And Oscar Wilde was the most obvious at the time, so I called it the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop.[11][12]

In March 1968 Rodwell began publishing a monthly newsletter from the bookshop, calling it HYMNAL.[1]

Early organizing meetings for the first Pride Parade in New York City were held at the bookshop in 1970.[13]

Rodwell sold the bookshop in March 1993 to Bill Offenbaker, three months before Rodwell's death of stomach cancer.[14] In June 1996 Offenbaker sold the store to Larry Lingle. In January 2003 Lingle announced that the bookshop would close due to financial difficulties.[15] Deacon Maccubbin, owner of Lambda Rising bookstores, purchased the bookstore to prevent the historically significant bookstore from closing.[16][17] The Advocate story on the scheduled closing failed to note that the founder of the Oscar Wilde Bookshop was Craig Rodwell, prompting a letter of correction from his former partner and first manager of the bookshop, Fred Sargeant.[18] In 2006, the bookstore was purchased by longtime manager, Kim Brinster.

The bookstore closed on March 29, 2009, due to double-digit declines in sales caused by the economic crisis amid extreme competition with online book sellers, according to Brinster.[19] It was part of a spate of LGBT brick and mortar bookstores closures in the early 21st century, including Lambda Rising's Washington store and A Different Light in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Influence of Christian Science[edit]

Rodwell was brought up as a member of the Christian Science church. The roots of Rodwell's belief in "gay liberation" arose from his daily readings of Christian Science literature which stressed "the dignity of all things human and the importance of making things true by believing in them."

Using the Christian Science example of community outreach and stressing the availability of literature that contained positive images of gays and lesbians, Rodwell modeled the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop after a Christian Science reading room.[20]


  1. ^ a b Howard Smith's Scenes column, Village Voice, March 21, 1968, Vol. XIII, No. 23 (March 21, 1968 – republished April 19, 2010) Archived June 30, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved June 16, 2010.
  2. ^ Craig Rodwell Papers, 1940-1993, New York Public Library (1999). Retrieved on July 25, 2011.
  3. ^ Tobin, pg. 65
  4. ^ Marotta, pg. 65
  5. ^ "Last Minute Oscar Wilde Reprieve" Gay City News. January 31 – February 6, 2003. Vol. 2 – Issue 5. Retrieved January 3, 2011.
  6. ^ "Venerable Gay Bookstore Will Close" The New York Times. February 3, 2009. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  7. ^ Tobin/Wicker, pg. 69-70
  8. ^ a b Downs, pg. 65
  9. ^ Duberman, pg. 164–166
  10. ^ Pobo, Kenneth. Journalism and Publishing Archived 2008-09-28 at the Wayback Machine, GLBTQ Encyclopedia (October 13, 2007). Retrieved on September 23, 2008.
  11. ^ Tobin/Wicker, Gay Crusaders pg. 65
  12. ^ Downs, pg. 69
  13. ^ Sargeant, Fred. "1970: A First-Person Account of the First Gay Pride March." The Village Voice. June 22, 2010. Retrieved January 3, 2011.
  14. ^ Craig L. Rodwell, 52, Pioneer for Gay Rights New York Times obituaries (June 20, 1993). Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  15. ^ Santor, Marc "Hard Words for a Bookshop: The End." New York Times. January 7, 2003. Retrieved January 3, 2011.
  16. ^ Santora, Marc "Plot Twist for a Gay Bookstore: The Last Chapter Actually Isn't" New York Times February 4, 2003 Retrieved January 3, 2011.
  17. ^ Neff, Lisa. The importance of being open: Oscar Wilde Bookshop purchased by Deacon Maccubbin of Lambda Rising, The Advocate (March 18, 2003). Retrieved on May 6, 2010.
  18. ^ Fred Sargeant. "He Wrote The Book." Liberation Publications/The Advocate. April 1, 2003. Retrieved on May 6, 2010.
  19. ^ Chan, Sewell. "Venerable Gay Bookstore Will Close." New York Times. February 3, 2009.
  20. ^ Marotta, p. 66


  • Downs, Jim, Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation (Basic, 2016)
  • Duberman, Martin, Stonewall (New York: Dutton, 1993) ISBN 0-452-27206-8
  • Marotta, Toby, The Politics of Homosexuality (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981) ISBN 0-395-31338-4
  • Sargeant, Fred (2009) Anger Management, New York Times Op-Ed, June 25, 2009 Retrieved January 3, 2011

Coordinates: 40°44′02″N 74°00′02″W / 40.7340°N 74.0006°W / 40.7340; -74.0006