(originally published in Avenue magazine, July 2005)
By Ron Odom
Walking into the trifurcated Rebel Books you are confronted by primary colors, red in one room, blue in the adjacent one, and a magazine rack filled with titles like Juxtapoz, hip Mama, High Times, Swindle, and punk planet. A third room features art by New York artist Christina Prudenti.
The B-52s and The Clash plays throughout the store and it’s safe to say you’re likely to hear all types of music at owner-operator Shawna Kenny’s new establishment where counterculture and eclecticism is the name of the game.
You’ll find titles of books like Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip – Hop Generation by Jeff Chang, The New American Splendor Anthology by Harvey Pekar, Legends of Punk by Rikki Ercoli, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins, and Gangsta Rap Coloring Book by Aye Jay on shelves. Also featured are anthologies of poetry by Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, and bell hooks, as well as books on the art of Frida Kahlo. This sampling by no means represents the entirety of what is available at the store, and many book needs can be satisfied by placing an order there.
The store will also be hosting book signings and musical performances. Recent appearances include George Hurchalla reading from his book Going Underground: American Punk 1979-1992. Kenney said she knew the author years ago from her days as a concert promoter.
“He called me up and talked about coming by, thinking I lived in Los Angeles,” she says. “I told him I was in Wilmington, North Carolina now.” Musical performances by Marstellar and Robert Lurie accompanied that night’s festivities.
“We sold a lot that night,” Kenney said. “I had to reorder some items.”
This confluence of music, art, and literature is reflective of the store itself and the owner plans to host similar events at the store in the future.
Originally from Washington D.C., Kenney lived in Los Angles for nine years and resided in Wilmington since last August. Aside from business owner she is also a graduate student in the Creative Writing Department at UNCW. Involved in writing, concert promotion, and publishing since the late 1980s, she has participated in many literacy and literary events at colleges and cities around the country. Kenney is also co-editor of Herbivore magazine, also sold at the store, which, along with the animal friendly bags and beauty products offered, reflects Mrs. Kenney’s vegan values.
Rebel Books has been open for a few weeks. Her motivation for opening the store, she says, was the absence of a place like it in Wilmington when she moved here. Her models for the store are other alternative book stores around the country like Quimby’s in Chicago, Atomic Books in Baltimore and Olsson’s in D.C. She acquires books through most of the same distributors that major book chains use, the difference being what she stocks and the customers ask for. Kenney assured that in the future more inventory decisions will be shaped by customer desires. A growing desire for alternative children’s books was cited as an example of something the surrounding community has been asking for more of that she intends to start carrying.
“Business has been good,” Kenney says. “I can’t complain.”
Let’s all hope that that continues to be the case, because creativity, alternatives, and choice are things no one should have to complain about.