Melbourne’s queer bookshop Hares & Hyenas recently celebrated its 20th birthday with what must be a record in queer literature events: 20 nights of readings featuring close to 100 authors. The events took place in January and February as part of Melbourne’s Midsumma festival, which celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities. Bookshop owners Crusader Hillis and partner Rowland Thomson admit they are exhausted in running this mini-writers’ festival.
While author events have always been a big part of the bookshop, this is the first time that the City of Yarra has provided funding for the shop’s performance space, which allowed Hillis and Thomas to put on a much larger and more diverse program. This year’s line-up included authors Christos Tsiolkas, Dennis Altman, Jesse Blackadder, Noel Tovey, Jack Charles, Jean Taylor, Joan Nestle, Benjamin Law, Sophie Cunningham, Neal Drinnan, Steve Dow, Kelly Gardiner, Peter Rose, Kim Westwood, Urszula Dawkins and Kerry Greenwood.
Christos Tsiolkas, who entertained fans with a reading from his work-in-progress, has a long history with the bookstore. ‘The first thing that comes to mind [about Hares & Hyenas] is a sense of loyalty,’ Tsiolkas told Bookseller+Publisher. ‘It was one of the first places to support me as a writer. It gave me a space and a voice to write. What I love about Crusader and Rowland is that they are about the writing and they’re not about the celebrity.’
Another fan of the bookstore is Queensland author Benjamin Law. ‘When I come to Hares & Hyenas in Melbourne it’s like I’m returning to my spiritual home.’
Reading on the same night as Tsiolkas was Australian academic and gay rights activist Dennis Altman, whose 1972 book Homosexual: Oppression & Liberation (Angus & Robertson) was the first significant study on homosexual oppression to be published in Australia. It was recently republished by UQP to coincide with its 40th anniversary.
Altman believes queer bookshops have an important role to play in the community. ‘I think that this is a space in which a lot of people are able to come and find out about themselves and their histories,’ he told Bookseller+Publisher, adding that unlike the bar scene or bigger events, which can scare some people off, ‘bookshops by their nature are semi-public and semi-private and what you see in a bookshop like this is that people wander in, they take a while to browse around and they actually learn about themselves.’
Altman observed that while most of the American queer bookshops have collapsed, Australian shops have survived ‘because they do events like this’. The other major Australian queer bookshop is The Bookshop Darlinghurst in Sydney.
Visit Hares & Hyenas online here.