Jessica Helen Lopez is not one to rest on her laurels. But she’s fine wearing them proudly on her sleeve. The highly respected writer and performer is a poet laureate emeritus of Albuquerque (2014-2016). She’s an adjunct instructor at the Institute of American Indian Arts, a poetry and spoken word educator with Native American Community Academy and an adjunct instructor in UNM’s Chicana and Chicano Studies program. She’s also an award-winning slam poet, a TED Talk alumnus and a host of KNME’s regional arts series “¡COLORES!” Now you can add businesswoman to the resume. The self-described “mom and teacher” is on the cusp of launching Luchadora Books, a pop-up used bookstore that will be open at a variety of public events around Albuquerque.
So what made the published author (2011’s Always Messing With Them Boys, 2015’s The Language of Bleeding) want to move from creating books to hawking them?
“I’m a professional writer. I also piecemeal together lots of different gigs,” says Lopez around sips of blueberry tea on a couch in Nob Hill’s Flying Star Cafe. “These days it’s been virtual, but I’m going to be doing some in-person things this coming year, so I’m really excited about that. And so with that mentality comes the spirit of being an entrepreneur. I’ve never had any wares to hawk. I don’t paint. I have no patience to sit down and create jewelry. But I’m a connoisseur of the arts. I like to support my homeboys like [local artists] Jesse Littlebird or CloudFace. I’ve got paintings of theirs. But I’ve never really been able to do hands-on creating. Unless I’m selling the books I’ve published, the books I’ve authored. Which isn’t always necessarily feasible.” Recently, however, Lopez spotted a vendor selling used books at a local coffee shop. A lightbulb went off.
“I’ve always wanted to be a book lady. Since I was little, I worked in the library in the summer,” confides Lopez. “I don’t think that I would change my career path to become a librarian at this point in time. But I always wanted to be a librarian. Then I was, like, hell yeah, I’ll be a book lady! I started researching on YouTube, people across the country who have opened up pop-ups in general and that deal with used books.” Armed with her online education and a collection of books gathered from friends and family, Lopez took inspiration from a wave of Albuquerque artists and craftspeople—like All Chola Clothing and Two Stoned Betties Jewelry—who operate pop-up shops at ArtsCrawls, bars, restaurants, concerts and other public events.
Lopez’s enterprise, Luchadora Pop-Up Books, will focus “primarily on writers of color, across genres.” But she expects to tailor her daily selection based on the events she attends. Maybe poetry is in order for one pop-up, while children’s books are appropriate for another. Lopez is particularly jazzed about the idea of interacting with readers, discussing the merits of Jeffrey Eugenidies’s Middlesex or the works of Williams S. Burroughs.
She admits she likes the idea of “somehow playing god or goddess, being able to select what books are put out. Or like it’s a prescription. You walk up and you’re, like, ‘Oh, man. I really need a book for this. Or this.’ I pull out my prescription pad, and here you go. You should read this book or that book.”
Lopez will test the waters this coming Valentine’s Day with her very first pop-up book event at Founder’s Speakeasy, the craft cocktail bar hidden underneath the El Rey Theater in Downtown Albuquerque. The owners asked Lopez to host an intimate poetry night on Feb. 14. She’ll be serving as “femcee,” reading her own works and introducing several other local poets and performers (Jasmine Sena Cuffee, Don McIver and Alejandro Gonzales among them). She saw the Valentine’s event as the perfect opportunity to launch her new business venture. In between the spoken word sessions, Lopez will be selling the written word, promising a “limited display, very geared toward the event itself.”
Lopez has already got several other events lined up for the future of Luchadora Books. Marya Errin Jones, founder of the ABQ Zine Fest and former owner of The Tannex Gallery, is planning a big event for Jack Kerouac’s birthday in spring. Lopez will be there in full force, stacks of Beat Generation books in tow. She’ll also be doing some events at Mariposa Gallery and at the Rail Yards. To see where Luchadora will pop up next, go to facebook.com/luchadorabooks.
So how well does Lopez think Albuquerque will take to a reasonably priced, expertly curated, somewhat itinerant used book store? Asked if she thinks Albuquerque is a literate town, the “book lady” is quick to respond. “Absolutely. I think we celebrate our independent book stores, like Bookworks on Rio Grande and Organic Books just around the corner [from here]. I think we have a very robust, poetic community. There are active teachers in the classrooms far and wide across the city, and there’s this burgeoning—not ‘burgeoning,’ it’s already very vibrant—youth poetry and writer scene. And artists, for that matter. And I think all of that begets a large population of readers.”
Between teaching and hosting poetry events and being a full-time mother, Lopez hopes she can turn Luchadora Pop-Up into a successful business venture, and maybe make Albuquerque a bit more well-read in the process. “As an Aries, I always want something else to do,” admits the newly minted entrepreneur. “So it just seems like it’s the right fit for a professional writer, a poetry teacher and someone who does communications for a living.”