Guide to Kulchur has served the Cleveland area as an active co-op, social justice hub, arts venue, bookstore, and ‘zine shop since 2013. A nonprofit organization, Guide to Kulchur bills itself as “a bookstore with a cause.”
Cleveland activist, novelist, and poet RA Washington first opened Guide to Kulchur near Cleveland’s Capitol Theatre on W. 65th St. The store hosted events and ‘zine-making workshops in addition to book buyers. In true DIY fashion, a small press and printshop also flourished in the space, promoting marginalized literary voices and allowing local Ohio artists to benefit from the micropress.
Issues with funding forced the store to move twice, first to Detroit and W. 59th St., and finally to Lorain Avenue and W. 52nd St., where it stands today. The community has rallied around the store throughout its growing pains, and today, the store’s status as a nonprofit allows it to be much more financially sustainable.
Guide to Kulchur specializes in ‘zines, pulp fiction, political and socially significant texts, and books by local authors, along with a number of classic works of literature. Today, the store operates on a pay-what-you-can model, allowing everyone to benefit from its resources.
Since the store secured nonprofit status, it’s also launched several community initiatives, hoping to bring folks in for much more than books. Guide to Kulchur inherited the Cleveland Books to Prisoners program, which provides free books to the incarcerated population, from the Cleveland Catholic Worker group in 2013.
The store’s owner and executive board have expanded upon the program’s success, developing other initiatives such as the Prison Media Literary Project (which helps nonviolent inmates develop crucial skills in publishing and technology for future job opportunities and personal development) and RE:Turn, a project that seeks to lower recidivism rates after incarcerated individuals are released from both adult and juvenile facilities. Meanwhile, the Community Tech Initiative aims to help socioeconomically underprivileged families gain media literary and access to technology.
Guide to Kulchur functions not only as an affordable independent bookstore, but as a vital community gathering space. Clevelanders flock to the store for book releases, literary launch parties, poetry readings, classes, workshops, talkbacks, performances, and meetings for community organizations. The Black Box Performance and Speaker Series hosts local, regional, national, and international artists. The space also continues to function as a printshop and an independent press, under the imprint “GTK Press.”