Remembering Carla Cohen
This week, Washington, DC is mourning the loss of a towering figure in the literary and political community. Carla Cohen, the co-owner of the legendary Politics and Prose bookstore in Northwest DC, died October 11 at the age of 74 . Cohen was a model of socially conscious entrepreneurship.
Cohen, a former urban planner and housing advocate and mother of two, hatched the idea to open an independent bookstore in DC after leaving her job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development at the end of the Carter administration. A progressively minded book lover, she dreamed of creating a charming and comfortable gathering place for the intellectually curious in DC. To finance her enterprise, Cohen and her husband mortgaged their house and borrowed money from friends and family. After placing an ad for a manager in the local newspaper, she found a business partner and co-founder in Barbara Meade.
Politics and Prose opened in 1984, and since then has served as a necessary stop for voracious readers in DC area, as well as authors, journalists, and politicians who hope to share their ideas and promote their latest works. When the store opened, Cohen and Meade ran it with the help of one part-time employee. Today, a staff of fifty keeps the shop running. Politics and Prose functions as a center for progressive activity; there are daily author events, open mic nights, and book club meetings, and a coffee house in the basement serves as a comfortable meeting place.
Cohen and Meade announced their retirement earlier this year, putting the store up for sale after 26 years with the intention that the new owner would continue to run Politics and Prose as an independent, unique space.
Cohen once told the Washington Post that she was inspired to create Politics and Prose after watching a performance of violinist Isaac Stern on television. She thought at the time, "If I could only be like Isaac Stern and do something in my life that would bring nothing but pleasure to other people." Reflecting on her journey since, she said, “And that's how I feel about what I do now."