Kaitlyn Mahoney and Their Queer Little Bookstore

A photo of Kaitlyn Mahoney in a dark blazer, alongside a photo of some queer literature.

A queer little bookstore is coming to Salt Lake City! Under the Umbrella, helmed by Kaitlyn Mahoney, hopes to open in time for Pride Month. Considering they’ve already surpassed their Indiegogo fundraising goal of $50,000, that dream is well on its way to becoming a reality (but don’t let that stop you from donating!). Their website asserts that a “bookstore can be a place of refuge, a place of validation and celebration…” and we couldn’t agree more, which is why we here at peculiar are sponsoring a bookshelf of our own. We sat down with Mahoney, the dynamo behind this project, to learn more about their vision for the business.

What inspired “Under the Umbrella” and the Indiegogo campaign?

Opening a bookstore has always been a dream of mine. I’m actually a copyeditor—that’s my day job and has been since I graduated from college. One of the things I love about being an editor is helping other people tell their stories in compelling, accessible ways and I think opening a bookstore is another way of doing that. I’m really excited to be in a position to connect queer authors with queer readers and others who need to hear their stories.

I was able to save up a good amount of money to fund a lot of the startup costs, but building an inventory of books is expensive. I considered applying for a small business loan, but it didn’t feel right for the type of space that I want to create. This is a queer community space, not a space owned by a bank. Starting an Indiegogo to help raise money for the opening inventory was a way to make this a community space that more people can be invested in and help direct.

What do you hope to accomplish with this project?

Our goal with Under the Umbrella is threefold: sharing and celebrating LGBTQIA+ books, providing a space for queer people to gather and build community, and offer a means of livelihood to marginalized members of the community.

Because we are focused on LGBTQIA+ books, that means that we can stock every kind of queer book imaginable: Queer books with messy queer characters and happy queer characters and the entire range of gender and sexuality represented.

Beyond the books, Under the Umbrella is meant to be a space to experience queer community together. We’ll be offering a little free library, a community pantry, a (small) free gender-affirming closet, space to write letters of support to incarcerated queer folks, a reading nook, a community book recommendation shelf, and space for writing groups, book clubs, poetry readings, and more.

Queer folks also experience higher rates of unemployment, and we’ve been affected more during the pandemic than our heterosexual peers. Ultimately, I want to hire additional queer booksellers to work in the store. I’m committed to a $15/hour minimum wage, which means it will take me a while to be able to afford paying another employee. In the meantime, we’re stocking books and other items by queer authors, artists, and makers. If you’re a queer artist of any kind and you’d like to stock something in the store, reach out! We can figure out a consignment or wholesale arrangement, and I’d love to showcase your work.

Ultimately, we hope to create a safe space for queer people where they can be in communion with themselves and their community. 

Tell us about yourself: Why a bookstore? Why Salt Lake?

I’m queer and Salt Lake City is queer, and I love queer people so much! We deserve love and validation and safety, and unfortunately a lot of us don’t have those things in many areas of our lives. I wanted to help create a space made specifically for all queer people to be safe and be seen. I needed—and still need—a space like this, where we can just be ourselves surrounded by queerness.

When I started reading more queer books specifically, I realized how difficult it was to go to a traditional bookstore and identify which books had queer content or were written by queer authors, unless I already knew a book was queer or it was in a queer-specific section of the store. Reading about queerness was transformative for me. It impacted how I saw myself and my community, and it was frustrating not knowing whether my identity was going to be acknowledged or validated in any particular book.

The publishing industry has been doing a lot better recently, but the industry and what it publishes is still overwhelmingly white, cisgender, heterosexual, and nondisabled. General bookstores don’t necessarily have the capacity or desire to prioritize these stories. The plan at Under the Umbrella is to really flip the traditional prioritization hierarchy on its head and bring these stories to the forefront so that what in other places might be an afterthought is really the focus for us: stories by and about QTPOC, disabled queers, fat queers, identities that are often left out of the conversation even within the queer community, like aromantic, asexual, and intersex identities. 

A collage of different book displays with the Under the Umbrella logo.

What’s something we haven’t asked that you want to tell us about the campaign and the bookstore?

I may be the one opening the store, but so many people have come together to make this happen. I’m personally dedicated to making the store a success, but I know it’s going to succeed because of the dedication of the community as a whole. So many people have reached out and said how incredible a space like this would have been for themselves when they were younger and how necessary it still is. I’m humbled and excited to be part of making this a reality.

I also want to acknowledge that while we don’t know for sure where the bookstore will be located, if it is in Salt Lake City, it will be on Goshute, Shoshone, Paiute, and Ute land. I would love to work with a Native artist on a land acknowledgement for the store to recognize the traditional stewards of the land that we are on.

What are all the ways fans and allies can support Under the Umbrella?

Continue to donate and share the Indiegogo campaign! We just passed our original $50,000 goal, but all the money we raise will continue to go toward building our inventory. More books means more diversity and more representation that we are able to provide!

While we’re looking for a physical retail space, you can buy books through our Bookshop.org link. If you purchase through our link (check to make sure our logo is in the top left corner of the page!), we get a 30% commission. If you prefer audiobooks, you can shop through our Libro.fm link, which also supports independent bookstores. We also have a HummingbirdDM link, which has ebooks and audiobooks.

We also appreciate your book recommendations, and your recommendations for queer artists and makers to stock in the store.

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Welcome Our Newest Staff Member: Megan Warner

Megan Warner, posing in front of a brick wall with the cutest, floppiest brimmed hat.

Megan Warner is a graduate from Southern Utah University with a BA in English Creative Writing and a minor in Graphic Design. She has had poetry and prose published in the Kolob Canyon Review. When not writing, reading, or painting, she is playing with her two cats, Paper and Clip, cooking new recipes with her significant other, and watching as many animated movies as she can.

To welcome her into the fold, we decided to bombard her with a few questions!

How did you first hear about peculiar?

I first heard about peculiar through a class assignment about different types of literary magazines with specific themes or for specific groups of people.

What activities most preoccupy your waking hours at the moment?

Weekdays: Working, playing with my cats, and cooking. Weekends: Hosting game nights, reading, and hiking

What do you want to be doing in five years?

In five years I would like to be working for a publisher making and editing books.

What were you like as a child?

As a child I was creative, artistic, and perfectly content to entertain myself.

If you could tell your child self one thing, what would it be?

I would tell my child self to not be afraid to express myself. Write what you want, paint what you want, say what you want, and dress how you want. Don’t be afraid of the opinions of others because in a few years you won’t remember their names.

Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote or created out of a self-imposed impulse? What was it?

The first thing I can remember creating without prompt was a short story I wrote where the main character was a leaf on a tree that never fell during fall and had to live out the winter still attached to its tree.

What’s your creative process?

My creative process is impulsive and nonlinear. When I write, I start with an idea but not with any specific point in a story or poem. I let the words come and then stitch everything together afterwards in some kind of Frankensteinian conglomeration of a working piece of writing before editing the hell out of it.

“I would tell my child self to not be afraid to express myself. Write what you want, paint what you want, say what you want, and dress how you want. Don’t be afraid of the opinions of others because in a few years you won’t remember their names.”

What subjects/genres/locations interest you the most?

I enjoy science fiction and fantasy genres more than anything. I like stories with a focus on found family and where romantic love is more of an afterthought.

What poets/authors/creators do you most admire?

I admire Neil Gaiman, Brandon Sanderson, and Mary Shelley.

What’s it like being queer where you live?

Living in Utah and growing up Mormon, being queer was never presented as an option to me until I was in high school. Even then, it took me years to filter through what was expected of me and figure out who I was. I don’t dress or present myself all the time as someone who screams to the world that I am queer so often me being queer is something people only find out about me after they get to know me.

What makes you “peculiar”?

I am peculiar because I have the hobbies of an 80-year-old woman, dress like a 20-something with an identity crisis, and have the movie taste of a ten-year-old. Ie. I enjoy knitting, embroidery, and jigsaw puzzles, wear a different aesthetic near daily, and will choose to watch an animated movie over anything else any day.

What are you most looking forward to about being on the peculiar staff?

I am excited to work with something creative with a message and a goal I can relate to.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on a series of poems and a fantasy novel.

What are your social handles/URLs?

Instagram: meganwa67