Word Up Community Bookshop Oral History Project

By Benji de la Piedra

This installation is a part of Then, Now, Next: Oral History for Social Change, OHMA's multimedia interactive popup exhibition of stories, which will take place at the Refectory at Union Theological Seminary on April 29, 2015.

In the Age of Amazon, and amid confused debates over the meaning of gentrification, what good is a community bookstore? This exhibit will offer possible answers to that question through a pop-up recreation of Washington Heights’ beloved Word Up Community Bookshop. Visitors will be able to browse books, enjoy music, writing and photography from local artists, and listen to testimony from some of the amazing volunteers who, every day, breathe life into Word Up’s unique cultural space. This exhibit is part of a larger effort to document the story and significance of Word Up, which began as a one-week pop-up in June 2011, and now has a permanent storefront on Amsterdam Ave. and 165th St.

Benji de la Piedra is a proud native of Washington DC. In May 2014 he graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University with a B.A. in American Studies. He has spent the past two years working for the Freedom and Citizenship Program at Columbia, helping coordinate and teach a Great Books course for a group of first-generation-college-bound New York City students, which prepares them for college and a lifetime of civic engagement. Benji received departmental honors for his undergraduate thesis on Ralph Ellison's unfinished second novel, Three Days Before the Shooting. He will build on that effort in his forthcoming OHMA thesis, which will identify and comment on the oral history dimension of Ellison’s life and work. Looking forward, Benji wants to bridge the gap between art and academics by using oral history as a heuristic means of understanding our associative lives.

Read more about Then, Now, Next: Oral History and Social Change.