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'Giant' in Chicago Bookselling Community Dies

Anne Waddington Leonard, proprietor of Anne W. Leonard Books in Chicago, died on July 31 at her home in Beverly, Illinois. She was 67. "We heard her reading light was still on when she was found; she worked at her store during the day and died in her sleep," John Presta, co-owner of nearby Reading on Walden Bookstore, told BTW.

Leonard's 16-year-old bookstore sold used and collectible books. Presta noted that "when we opened on June 10, 1991, Anne Leonard was one of the first people to enter our store. 'Just scouting out the competition,' she said. The relationship turned out to be more of cooperation than of competition. It was her intellect that was apparent."

Leonard, who moved to Chicago from Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1974, earned master's degrees in English and classics from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She taught English at the University of Tulsa and chaired the docent program at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa. After moving to Chicago, she became a researcher at the Field Museum and co-wrote a comprehensive catalogue for "Patterns of Paradise," a major exhibit of decorative cloth from Fiji, Samoa, and Hawaii.

Presta recalled, "She combined a great intellect with hard work and enthusiasm. She spent eight to 10 hours a day in her store. In addition, she was constantly on the search for books. She spent every spare moment going to thrift shops, estate sales, and wherever used books could be found. Many of our customers would purchase a frontlist hardcover and within days sell it to Anne for resale. Anne W. Leonard was a 'giant' whom we all in the community shall miss deeply."

Anne W. Leonard Books reopened on August 12 and continues to be run on behalf of the estate.


Alfred Ligon, 96, Owned L.A. African-American Bookstore Through Renaissance and Riots

Alfred Ligon, who founded the Los Angeles-based Aquarian Book Shop in 1941 with $100 saved from his salary as a Southern Pacific Railroad waiter, died on August 17 at age 96. Aquarian, named for a 1907 tract titled, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ, which Ligon, a young student of metaphysics favored, became the oldest continuously operated African-American-owned bookstore in the country.

Ligon's passionate interest in African-American history and culture made the store a center of activity during the civil rights movement. Opened when the African-American population of Los Angeles was less than five percent, interest in the store burgeoned in the 1960s, when it hosted classes, lectures, theatrical productions, and visits from black luminaries. The poet Maya Angelou, who first visited the store in 1955, told the Los Angeles Times that Ligon was a gentleman as well as a fine bookseller.

During a significant downturn in business and interest in African-American history, Ligon kept the Aquarian open "as a community service," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1982.

"It's a starvation business," he said. "But we're an institution. Even just a trickle of people who want these books justifies our existence."

In 1992, during the riots following the acquittal of Los Angeles Police Department officers in the Rodney King case, the store was burned to the ground. Ligon, rather than exhibiting a sense of outrage about the destruction of his 50-year-old store, told the L.A. Times, "I realized that these things had to be destroyed to give one an opportunity to move to a higher stage. [The rioters] were expressing their joy and sorrow and a change in consciousness, I can't mourn over that."

A major benefit featuring Maya Angelou and Alice Walker as well as donations, solicited by a group of independent booksellers, raised over $70,000 to reopen the store. For the next two years, Ligon struggled through a difficult business climate and finally closed Aquarius in 1994, following his wife's diagnosis of liver cancer. Ligon and his wife, Bernice, who had worked in the store since 1942, continued to offer literature and lectures on African spiritualism and black history from a lecture hall built in their home until her death two years ago. -- Nomi Schwartz