Remembering Bob Sheldon In A New Chapter of Internationalist’s History

A letter from one of our co-managers

When I began working as a co-manager a few years ago, I already knew about Bob Sheldon. I was born and raised in Chapel Hill, a child of the town and its stories – told and untold. I was a volunteer at the shop as a young teenager. The store, and the people and politics I encountered through it, changed my life immeasurably. If you’ve ever met me, or been to one of our events, you’ve probably heard me go on about how deeply I care for the bookstore and how incredible I think it is to have a project that is home to many generations of struggle. bob_sheldon

Through those generations, Internationalist is strong because it is always dynamic and shifting and growing. So much has changed in the 24 years since Bob’s death. Just in the past year, Internationalist has undergone a huge amount of change. We moved to a new location after nearly 20 years on Franklin St. There is always an amazing combination of people working in our collective, on our board, in the wider circles that intersect with the store, and each person shapes this project in remarkable ways. Especially in this year of great transition, it is our job as a collective to look forward, to embrace change. At the same time in our work, I feel a great responsibility to keep the past close, to honor the many people that have been part of this project and its history. We often think about the ways we honor and keep close the life and legacy of Bob Sheldon. We hold dear who he was and what he created, how it persists and flourishes.

While I’ve always known about Bob, growing up I did not know anyone who knew him. The longer I am in this role at Internationalist, the more I have the gift of hearing from people – all over the community, and all over the country – stories about who Bob was, about their friendships, the work they did together, the store in those days. Just yesterday as I tabled at the zine fest in Durham, many people stopped to say how glad they were to see the project going strong, what it has meant to them at different times. A few people paused, and looked at me, saying, “You know, I knew Bob.”

Each conversation I’ve had like these over the past few years has deepened my love for this project, and for Bob – someone I never had the chance to know, but whose life and work has so shaped mine. I am always so grateful for these conversations, and they all are different. They teach me so much about how things change over time, give me insight into reflections on politics and community and what the long haul might look like. They also give me insight into the strength of love and grief and memory, what it means to have a living relationship to someone lost. With someone like Bob, who was so important to so many, who did extraordinary things, it is often easy for the memory of the person to flatten, to become a myth. Bob’s legacy can tend towards that sometimes. But I have been struck again and again by the intimacy and simplicity that people speak to me with when they talk about Bob, the complexity they remember about this man and those times, the grounded and human way they talk about their friend and comrade. In all the many things that persist about Bob’s life and legacy, this way his memory lives on in such rich ways through those who loved him is always deeply moving.

I like to think of Bob this way, in the dear and loving and ordinary ways old friends have spoken about him. I like to think of that quality of family and friendship and the power it has. I like to think about how Bob teaches me about the enduring spirit that a person can give to the world in their time in it that can inspire something beyond themselves. Because of him, and because of all of us together, we have an amazing place for people to gather, creating something with life of its own. Because of him, and because of all of us together, our community has a project that is beginning a new chapter of its story, without any danger of leaving behind the love and the spirit and the fire of its history.

In a season of so much change and growth, we hold Bob Sheldon in our hearts today, as well as all of his family, friends and comrades.