ALTADENA, Calif. -- Doused in colorful paint and unmistakably belonging to independent bookseller ShopQueer, the Rainbow Book Bus stands out in the residential Altadena street where it was built. Its message needs little explanation, let alone during Pride month.
"It started as such a dream," said Adam Powell, who runs ShopQueer alongside his partner Eric Cervini. "With everything going on in the world, we thought, 'What can we do?'"
Powell and Cervini's shop elevates LGBTQ+ authors. Cervini, an award-winning historian, wrote the New York Times Bestseller and Pulitzer Prize Finalist, The Deviant's War.
The dream Powell referenced turned into a purpose, one that a community very clearly shared with them. The Rainbow Book Bus has raised almost $120,000, with an average donation of less than $50.
"We've been working with an incredible trans architect who helped design and build the entire inside of the bus. The outside was designed by an incredible non-binary designer and Latino artist in New York," said Cervini.
After a summer of pop ups in Los Angeles, the two plan to take the bus to communities around the country, particularly ones that may not have access to LGBTQ+ stories. Stories like Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson, among the most banned books, and James Baldwin's Giovanni Room, which Cervini says is his favorite.
"It was written in 1956-- an openly gay Black man writing about a gay love story in Paris in the 1950s," said Cervini while referencing the bravery required of authors then, and today.
The bus, they say, will hold roughly 1,000 books. The team behind it has redesigned the entire interior, with alcoves for sitting, shelves, and a forced perspective threshold that reveals a rainbow upon entrance.
Powell and Cervini are trying to create a space where people can escape, while staying rooted in reality. Surveillance cameras line the bus' exterior.
"I think anyone driving something so bright and colorful as this would be protective," said Cervini, when asked whether they were afraid to drive it to neighborhoods that may not welcome them. "I think this is where we're going to rely on the knowledge, the expertise and the community of the places where we visit."
They plan to use some of the money from books sold to help fund LGBTQ+ centers in underserved communities.