Gretchen Treu and Wes Lukes, co-owners of A Room of One’s Own in Madison, Wis., were named the 2021 Superstars at last night’s virtual celebration of PW Star Watch, a program that honors up-and-coming creatives in the book business.
The prize, sponsored by Publishers Weekly, was created seven years ago and has seen 300 individuals nominated for the awards. This year, the second in a row to hold the event online, 45 individuals were celebrated for their contributions to the industry.
Typically, the Superstar would receive a sponsored trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair, but due to the pandemic, this was changed to a $2,500 cash prize.
In accepting the award, Gretchen Treu acknowledged the “entire Room staff,” and added, “Wes and I are truly humbled to be honored by PW Star Watch.” A Room of One’s Own was founded as a feminist bookstore in 1975 and Treu and Lukes, along with novelist Patrick Rothfuss who is a silent partner, purchased it in 2018. Building on its feminist roots, the store now collects and donates books to local organizations such as LGBT Books to Prisoners Project, the Madison Reading Project and Arts + Literature Lab’s Queer Youth Book Club. In 2019, Treu and Lukes coordinated the nationwide #BookstoresAgainstBorders campaign and donated $110,000 to RAICES (the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services).
“Gretchen and Wes have stayed true to the spirit of A Room of One’s Own, continued to nurture diversity and updated its mission to include social justice efforts and fundraising. They kept the store going all during the pandemic, paying their staff and even increasing online revenues,” said Jim Milliot, editorial director of PW and a juror for the awards. “They have walked the walk and, with the move, brought the store into the future.”
The remaining PW Star Watch finalists, each of whom received a $500 cash honorarium, were Milena Brown, associate marketing director at Simon & Schuster/Atria Books; zakia henderson-brown, editor and strategic partnerships coordinator at The New Press; Kris Kam, publicity manager, Random House Children’s Books; and Tiffany Liao, executive editor at Zando.
The online awards ceremony attracted more than 120 attendees. The award announcement was followed by four breakout sessions enabling attendees to network. Lively discussions centered around a variety of topics, ranging from what attendees were most excited to sell during the holidays to the popularity of tabletop and role-playing games among professionals in the industry. On a more serious note, several people suggested that those in the industry should focus on having open discussions about the viability of the bookselling, publishing and writing professions overall and, specifically, about compensation. Several people advocated industry professionals look at options for unionizing.
Looking ahead, Milliot expressed his hope that next year’s Star Watch honorees will be able to celebrate with a live, in-person party. “And every nominee from last year and this year is invited,” he said.