The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Greensboro’s best kept secrets: Glenwood Community Book Shop

As the second semester kicks in, most students are turning to campus bookstores,, and Barnes & Noble for course books.

For those who dig deeper, Edward McKay Used Books is the top choice for Guilford students searching out independent bookstores. The end of the semester will likely also witness a migration to Empire Books across the street, as students try to get the best deal on their textbooks.

Greensboro is dotted with often-overlooked independent bookstores, including Addam’s, Pages Past, End of Days, and Shamir’s. But most interesting of all for Guilford students, the Glenwood Community Book Shop offers much more than merchandise.

Located at 1206 Grove St., a couple of blocks from the Greensboro Coliseum, the Glenwood Community Book Shop is nestled in the same eclectic area as the Greensboro HIVE (History, Information, Vision, and Exchange) community space, a hair salon, a martial arts dojo, and a Nation of Islam mosque. Glenwood is said to be Greensboro’s most diverse neighborhood, and if Grove St. is any indication, the claims are true.

On a recent sunny day, the sound of a passing car bumping Lil Wayne drifted into the bookshop as owner Al Brilliant talked with over 30 Elon University students who were packed in the cozy bookshop. The J-term class, entitled “Ethical Practice,” explores simple living and social change.

Not surprisingly, the few Guilford students who discovered the bookshop feel at home with Brilliant’s mix of intellectualism and rejection of institutionalized higher education. For the last two years, he has coordinated the “free university” on Thursdays from 6-8 p.m. Before the bookshop opened in October 2008, the free university met at the HIVE.

Everyone is welcome to attend and participate without grades, prerequisites, or other drawbacks of actually attending college.

“We don’t cut trees down to build a parking lot. (The free university) only has learning,” Brilliant said.

The free university is just one of the things that makes The Glenwood Community Book Shop more than a bookstore. Joseph Szyleyko’05 points out that the space is also used to build community and bind books.

In 1966, Brilliant was part of a collective of seven people in Santa Barbara, Cal., that founded Unicorn Press. Dedicated to publishing poetry, Unicorn Press published the now-famous Thich Nhat Hanh’s first five books and some of the early work of Daniel Berrigan and Thomas Merton.

In 1972, the press moved to Greensboro primarily for financial reasons, and over the years their numbers dwindled to two or three participants. Unicorn Press still exists; in fact, they published three books this month. If you know what to look for, you’ll notice books being bound in small quantities throughout the shop.

On Jan. 27, leading Latin American poet Ana Istaru will give a poetry reading at the bookshop to kick off the first publication of her work in English. Unicorn Press also published “Fifteen Women: French Women Poets of the Early 20th Century” this month. The book was printed and bound by Szyleyko, who has been working with Brilliant on a variety of projects, including building a bookshelf.

Brilliant describes the bookshop’s collection as primarily philosophy, art, poetry, and women’s studies. On the shelf behind the counter, a James Joyce book rests on a copy of the Koran, which isn’t far away from a book by President Obama. The shelf also encompasses Hunter S. Thompson, Studs Turkel, Al Gore, Oscar Wilde, and the Bible.

Some books are available for as cheap as $2, though many would argue that the best part of the bookstore isn’t even the books, but the atmosphere.

“I just started coming here like a week and a half ago,” said Glenwood resident Jona Khaosanga during a recent visit to the bookshop. “I honestly feel like my life has become so much brighter having Al (Brilliant) around.”

The sense of community isn’t an accidental byproduct of the bookbinding and selling business, but an intentional creation on Brilliant’s part. He suggests that a bookshop is the most important cultural center that a community could have.

“The college students, especially the Guilford College students, have been pouring in,” Brilliant told the assembled Elon students last week. “A bookseller is like a teacher and a student. This is to build community.

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