Following her passions has always led writer, store owner, and community activist Elysia Lucinda into new ventures. An immediate affinity for a local record and bookstore, housed in a local Masonic Lodge building, led Lucinda to purchase it when it was on the verge of shutting down. Over the past three years, she has been transforming Irvington Vinyl and Books into a multifaceted operation with a focus on community outreach.
Lucinda moved from Southern California to rural Indiana as a pre-teen. Small-town schools allowed for focused attention from her mentors, leading her to her passion: writing. Lucinda’s leadership skills were honed at Ball State University, where she took command of Writer’s Community, a writing workshop and poetry performance club. Several moves led her from the MFA program at the University of Massachusetts in Boston back to Indiana, where she became invested in the local arts scene.
The store is located in an East Side suburb of Indianapolis named Irvington, which is known as a home to many of Indy's LGBTQ+ community. The East Side is also predominately and historically Black. For Lucinda, this location means making a space for people of all backgrounds to comfortably enjoy books, art, and music. In fact, many of the community events hosted at Irvington Vinyl and Books attempt to reflect the diversity of the neighborhood whether they be organized by Queer or Black community members.
Irvington Vinyl & Books remains one of the best record stores in Indiana (the store has won the best of Indy for the last three years running), but it is also so much more. Starting with a Queer book club, Queery, Lucinda has continued to expand with a grant program for local musicians and a publishing company for zine writers. This year will see the development of an artist co-op, Caliban, that will foster a meeting place for the arts in Indiana, and help promote Indiana artists throughout the world.
You moved to Indiana from California as a kid. That must have been quite a culture shock.
Yeah. We moved from just outside of Orange County to a four thousand–person town that is majority Amish. I am grateful that my parents moved me to Indiana, because I would not have had as much opportunity. I went to a school for three towns and only had two hundred kids in my graduating class. So, I knew my teachers and I was able to be on sports teams and do drama. The school where I came from was so big that I never would have had any specialized attention. I need a lot of activities. So it probably would have been detrimental to me to just be in that environment.
How did you develop your love of writing?
I was really lucky, again, in high school. Because it was such a small school, I could excel in English and be a total bullshitter in math, and they just let me. I found out Amish kids could drop out in the eighth grade. I literally wrote “math is against my religion” and didn’t have to do a single test my whole high school career. They let me get by because I was like, “I’m just going to do really well in these English courses.” They paid attention to me and my sister because we were new and from out of state and had a different educational background.
My parents are kind of hip, so we had a lot of access to art, music, and books growing up. I wrote in California. I wrote poems. I got one published through Highlights magazine once. I don’t recall all the details of it. My dad has it clipped somewhere.
But when I started writing in Indiana and taking it really seriously, I had a teacher named Mrs. Vorhis, who just nurtured that and took me on as an independent study my senior year. I have issues with my attention and I need activities and snack-sized things. So poetry was like an easy avenue to channel all of my energy into. Quick gratification. “I made this thing, Mom. Read it!”
Writing led you to get more involved in community outreach when you were at Ball State. How did that go down?
My sister and I both went to Ball State and it was the party school in Indiana. I was really lucky there too, because there was an active writer’s community that a guy had fostered before me. I was able to come along and… If I like something, I will commit to it wholeheartedly. So I showed up every fucking week and sat in that meeting and didn’t say anything to anyone because I was kind of shy. Then they asked me to be vice president because no one else showed up every week. I just kind of took it over from there and was able to not only be nurtured as a writer, but also be nurtured as a leader. That’s kind of how I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. Running that club and throwing events for that club and organizing for the English department at Ball State…. So I started a whole poetry series there.
After Ball State, you went to Boston for your MFA. Why didn’t you stay on the East Coast? What made you come back to Indiana?
I knew that Indiana was a place where you could get things done. I had thrown a reading series in Boston too, and it took about three years to get a consistent crowd showing up every month. That’s about the cycle for building anything, you know? By my third year, I had to leave, so…. That was how it was in college too.
I really want to build something that’s sustainable, and I want to make it possible for other people to build it too, because that’s always been my thing. I just like throwing parties and getting all my friends out and giving them a little magical moment if I can. But it would be nice to be able to teach other people how to do that, because it requires a combination of skills that don’t happen in the arts. You either have your super business-brained people, who end up in PR roles or arts administration, or you have your artists. Musicians, you know? They’re like, “I’m not writing an artist statement! That’s beneath me!” You know? Shut the fuck up! Do you want to be in a gallery show or not?
How exactly did you discover and get involved with Irvington Vinyl & Books?
So, a big secret about me is that I do pretty much everything in my life because I fell in love with someone or because I fell in love with people. I was dating a local DJ [named Drake Strange], and he’s taking me around to all of the record stores. Drake takes me on a date here, and I’m, like, in amazement. This place is so cool; it’s in this crazy old building. No one knows about it. Like, “Oh my God, I’m going to be here all the time. They’re not going to be able to get rid of me…” And the next day, I am at work, fake working… I’d go over to Square Cat [coffee shop], and I would bitch and moan with the barista there. So I’m talking to her, telling her about this date, and she goes, “Oh, I know that place. I know the owner. I heard he’s gonna close.” And I was like, “What the fuck! I just found this. That’s not cool.”
I was so in love with Drake that I was like, “He loves this. I’m really smart. I could do something about this.” And I just started brainstorming, and I’ve always wanted to run a co-op. I’ve always wanted to do interdisciplinary arts organizing since I was sixteen. So I was like, “I know enough DJs. I could organize a bunch of DJs, and maybe they’ll want access to the vinyl, and maybe they’ll buy in.” So I started, like, drafting everything as a business plan, and it’s not really working, and no one’s like, “Yeah, I’m going to put down money and believe in what you’re saying, stranger.”
You were able to get a bid together and the blessing of owner Rick Wilkerson, but it fell apart. That must have been exasperating, but, in the end, you found a family friend to be your benefactor to help finance the purchase.
In the time it took me to smoke a cigarette, a man said yes to giving me $70K, and I bought the shop. It’s so crazy. I’ve never done anything like this, and the first two years were an insane learning curve. Now I would say I’m organized, but I still don’t have help. That’s the real kneecap issue. That’s what’s making it really hard for me to grow, and the co-op was starting to really function and was fully launched before the pandemic. Then all the perks that I could provide my members became contingent on being available in person, and we couldn’t do that. I didn’t have the energy or means to just flip on a dime and do a bunch of digital programming.
Even with the difficulties, you have been able to do some amazing things focused around the LGBTQ+ community. How did that begin?
I’ll say that supporting the LGBTQ+ community was an easy first step because I am a Queer individual and most of my friends are Queer. They were just coming to my store to support me, and then I was like, “Well, let’s do something!” Someone was like, “I want to start a book club.” Then I just started organizing here. But I would say I hope to be as directly involved in the Black community as in for the Queer community.
Really? Why is that?
First of all: Irvington is located in a neighborhood that used to be totally dominated by the Ku Klux Klan. So if you look at that history, and if you think about the fact that we’re in a Masonic Lodge, half of those guys were walking through these halls on a regular basis. The only reason that Irvington is the bubble of prosperity that it is, and the areas around us are red hot, is because of the presence of the Klan in the 1920s
You can’t be a business owner in today’s day and age and not be aware of the space that you inhabit. You can’t be a small-business owner, facing late-stage capitalism, without being thoughtful. You really have to be aware of and engage with your community. And to me, that community isn’t really this little pocket of whiteness that you see. It’s the full-on East Side, which is Black. And Irvington’s otherness is primarily Queerness, so we are, by proxy, supporting the Queer community by supporting the Black community and the least among us, which are honestly Trans Black women. That’s who I want to have a safe space here [for]. I want a Trans Black woman to walk in here and feel like she can be herself, fully.
I know that Indiana remains one of the most conservative states, having a legacy of the Ku Klux Klan and passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as recently as 2015. What has been the response to you and your work?
It’s really varied. I will say that I shot off really hard this summer, and people would say to me, “You can’t say that. That’s divisive.” I would say, “I think we’re supposed to be divisive right now, because if you don’t pick a side, I know who you are and that’s how this is. That’s the only way that it’s going to be going forward, because that’s the only way we’re going to actually see the institutions causing oppression and this racism.” We’re going to see them inside ourselves too, by doing that work. I said a lot of anti-police and a lot of pro-BLM shit very publicly from the shop page, from my own page, and definitely got some hate.
Every once in a while… There was some sort of event… Oh, I bet it was the Indy 500, because that was very recently. I was working in the shop during the weekend, and I kept noticing people coming in with American flag tattoos. And I’m just like, “Oh my God!” Behind my desk, there’s this huge Black Lives Matter sign on a chalkboard, so it’s like you really can’t miss our perspective. And these guys are walking in, and I’m just like, “Classic rock’s over there.”
I’ve had people say things, like when this lady said, “It’s just a bookstore; it shouldn’t be political.” She said that to her partner, and I kind of was like, “What the fuck? That’s exactly what it is supposed to be like. If you read, it’s political in this country.”
Indianapolis is pretty progressive. Irvington, especially, is pretty progressive, but everything around us is not, you know? I went traveling with some Queer friends recently, and we just went over to fucking Bloomington, to Lake Monroe, and one of my friends is a Trans woman, but she hasn’t medically transitioned, and I went to hand her a mask and I instinctively grabbed the glittery one because that’s what I imagine her wanting to wear, you know? What she usually would wear… She handed it back to me and grabbed a dirty paper mask that had already been used because that’s what she knew she had to use to not get beat the fuck up in a fucking gas station in forty-five minutes from here. That’s unacceptable.
Please talk to me about the R/Evolution Fund.
It [launched] on Saturday [June 12, 2021] officially, but we’ve already given out $4,000 in grants. It’s exclusively $500 grants, no questions asked. "We" being myself, some local NFPs, namely Musical Family Tree, The Indiana Writers Center, The Kheprw Institute, and a gallery called Abattoir Gallery. Kind of marketed as emergency bill-pay, but also just like no questions asked for BIPOC artists in Indianapolis. I’m really trying to connect Indiana to the national scene, Indianapolis to the national scene. That’s the majority of my mission here is to get our artists out there.
I want to get local businesses as much as possible, especially those businesses, like mine, that rely on the arts to function, to contribute monthly donations of at least $75. It’s a donor-advised fund at the Central Indiana Community Foundation.
I take applications, and all that we ask is that people provide a personal reference or a social media handle to show us that they are a local artist contributing to the local scene, and then we just give them $500. We’re limited. We only have enough right now on monthly contributions, recurring contributions, to give one grant a month, but I was able to raise a bunch of money beforehand. We’ve blown through most of that. But for all new contributions that month, CICF will match us to the tune of $500, so to at least another grant.
So my goal is going to be throwing events to make sure that we get $500 in new contributions every single month. So I have to really get the word out because that’s either, you know, twenty-five different individuals at $25 a month or it’s just five, you know? Or one! So I’m going to throw events as much as possible out in the city with different businesses who are already contributing. We’re doing 20% of all sales from Record Store Day on Saturday [June 12], all going to the fund. That’s what I want everyone else to do. Even if it’s just 10%, even if it’s just we will match dollar for dollar on something, you know, like one item, whatever. I don’t care. I just want people leading by example, because that’s the way that we’ll get this done.
That’s awesome. I wanted to ask about the other things that you’re doing. The publishing and the zines, perhaps? How and when did that start?
We’re taking community to the next level with Caliban Co-op. That was inspired by someone named Kelsey Simpson who ran the Gluestick Festival here in Indianapolis, and still does, I believe. I didn’t know what a zine was until I met her, but I had been making zines forever; I just called them chapbooks, you know, because that’s the poetry community.
It must be exhausting doing this mainly on your own.
That’s where Caliban comes in, though, because every single person has a stake in it, because it’s going to be beneficial to them. We have six people involved right now, and we’ve been meeting monthly. A few of them have actually put out zines. Our goal is to get zines in coffee shops and bars in Indianapolis, and they’ve already facilitated some of that, so it will be happening pretty soon. Very simple to start, but we also have a digital store, so you can buy any of our zines online, and we’re sharing the cost of marketing, which is, essentially, I’m paying for it right now.
The contribution looks like sitting at the desk for me, so I don’t have to interact with people because that sucks. Or sweeping the shop. Or alphabetizing a section. Tabling an event because part of the co-op is a pop-up merch team. So if you’re a local performer and you’re a member of the co-op and you need to be out schmoozing, but you want a table, we’ll send two people and a table, as long as we can bring Caliban zines too.
I think if we really get this co-op running… Right now we’re just functioning with what we have. But what it will be is a place where the means of production intersect with artists. An actual outlet to sell the stuff that they’re producing. I don’t just want to have a printer making zines; I want to have a fucking recording studio.
I want to have an event space. I want to have an art supply store and all of it be connected, so that it’s a one-stop shop where you can be an artist and buy the shit that you need to be an artist and sell your shit as an artist.
How did you come to use the name Caliban for the co-op?
Caliban—after the character in The Tempest, because it’s uncensored, just like that character who will say whatever the fuck he wants because he was taught language, and, also, because there’s this quote from a scholar named Russell Hoban that says: “Caliban as a character is a necessary idea.”