Store History

In the Beginning 

Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade opened a small store named Politics and Prose at 5010 Connecticut Avenue NW in the autumn of 1984.  Initially the store staff consisted of just two employees, Carla and Barbara, plus a part-time bookseller in the evening.  Before a year was up, there were two additional full-time employees. Within five years, there were a half-dozen employees, and the store was bursting. In the summer of 1989, P&P moved across the street, assisted by customers who carried books to 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, a space twice as large. The bookstore now occupies more than 9,000 square feet of sales space, and almost 16,000 square feet of total business space, including offices and a coffeehouse called The Den. Two branch locations also exist at The Wharf and Union Market. P&P’s staff exceeds 100 employees. 

An Expanded Children’s Section 

Before Politics and Prose opened for business, the Cheshire Cat, a prominent children’s bookstore also on Connecticut Avenue NW about eight blocks north, had been selling books for more than two decades. The store had been founded and operated by four women, but one had moved away and two others had retired, leaving Jewell Stoddard as the sole remaining owner. When the lease was up, the landlord presented Jewell a ten-year option to renew but with a large increase in rent. Rather than sign, Jewell decided to close the store. Reading in the Washington Post about the Cheshire Cat’s closing, Carla and Barbara called Jewell to ask her to come to work at Politics and Prose as manager of the children’s department. Jewell accepted, and she and two of her employees immediately started at Politics and Prose, which soon led to a doubling of sales in the children’s department. 

Change of Ownership 

When they approached their mid-seventies, Barbara and Carla began thinking about selling Politics and Prose and retiring. Carla passed away in October 2010. After interviewing many candidates, Barbara and Carla’s widowed husband, David Cohen, selected Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine to be the new owners of Politics and Prose. Brad was a longtime journalist with the Washington Post and author of two books.  His wife, Lissa, also had worked as a Post journalist for a number of years, then served as chief speechwriter and senior advisor to Hillary Clinton at the White House and State Department. Click here to read a message from Brad and Lissa.

The Name

The store’s name was set at the start by Carla Cohen. She wanted something that evoked Washington but didn’t sound pretentious. The name Politics and Prose had some shortcomings in the beginning because it led a number of customers to think the store specialized in political books. But now P&P’s reputation as a place that carries a wide variety of literary offerings is well established.

The Mission

P&P’s mission, as articulated by Brad and Lissa, is this: “Politics and Prose is a DC-based business devoted to cultivating community and strengthening the common good through books, programs, and a respectful exchange of ideas. We’re committed to exceptional customer service and to the values of independence, inclusion, and diversity.”

Today at Politics & Prose

Even as P&P confronts a changing world of e-books and e-readers, it continues to enjoy rising revenues and solid profitability. One of its signature features is an extensive line-up of author talks—at least one nearly every night of the year and often several a day on Saturdays and Sundays, plus frequent events at various off-site venues. Publishers compete to place their authors at P&P, and authors like coming to the store, in large part because the audiences often are sizeable, informed, and keen to support genres from literary fiction and poetry to narrative non-fiction and topical journalism. “Like the children of Lake Wobegon,” Carla and Barbara used to say, “all of our customers are above average.”

P&P does more than just sell books, offering a range of programs. It sponsors dozens of classes on various literary topics and hosts 18 in-house book groups. It sponsors week-long trips to such countries as France, Italy, and Cuba, as well as shorter day visits to places closer to home. And its coffeehouse and wine bar, renovated in 2016 and dubbed The Den, has a reputation for serving some of the best coffee in Washington.

Still, the store’s greatest strength may be its staff, who are known for their knowledge of literature and their ability to help customers find just the right books. P&P even offers a concierge subscription service that will send customers a book each month they are sure to enjoy.

In 2015, P&P joined forces with Busboys and Poets and began managing the book sales at some Busboys and Poets locations and sponsoring author talks there. This innovative business arrangement proved successful for both companies, uniting P&P’s bookselling skills with Busboys and Poets’ track record of operating multi-use, food-and-event gathering spaces. This partnership ended amicably in 2017, with the lessons learned paving the way for P&P to open new locations in the D.C. area.

On October 12, 2017, we opened a second branch at The Wharf, a major new waterfront development in South West Washington, and on June 18, 2018, we added a third branch at Union Market in North East Washington.

Luck, Hard Work, and a Sense of Community

The success that P&P has had represents, in part at least, the luck of being in the right place at the right time. The company started when it was still possible for a bookstore to begin small and grow bigger. It was well on its way before the chains opened, and it has remained able to compete effectively even in the Internet age, seizing opportunities, increasing its visibility, expanding its business, and further deepening its roots in the community. Under the leadership of Brad and Lissa, the store has continued to imagine, innovate, and adapt while remaining true to the mission first established by Carla and Barbara. And the founders’ words still ring true: “We have built a community, and the community has built the store.”


Media Coverage

The New Yorker

Politics & Prose & Perfection & (I Hope) Permanence - The New Yorker


LA Review of Books

A Community Spine | The Los Angeles Review of Books


Red Tricycle

Kid Lit: The Best Indie Bookstores for Budding Bibliophiles



The future of the bookstore: A real cliffhanger | The Economist


Colbert Report

Amazon's Scorched-Earth Tactics and Edan Lepucki's 'California' - The Colbert Report - Video Clip | Comedy Central



Junot Diaz is Live at Politics & Prose, a new Slate podcast.



Hillary Clinton: Speaking my mind ‘liberating’ -

Date Nights DC Itinerary: History Lovers |


Racked DC

The Best Beach Reads for Summer 2014 From Politics & Prose - Beach Reads - Racked DC


Voice of America

Despite Increased Competition, Independent Bookstores Thrive in US


Highbrow Magazine

Top Literary Cities in the U.S. | Highbrow Magazine


Minnesota Public Radio

The best books to read this summer | Minnesota Public Radio News


Brightest Young Things

BYT Summer Reading List - BrightestYoungThings - DC


Christian Scientist Monitor

Children's nonfiction is increasing in popularity, say authors -


Washington Business Journal

Politics & Prose to take over retail bookselling operations at Busboys & Poets - Washington Business Journal



Busboys and Poets Partners with Politics and Prose opening P&P book sections in new Brookland B&P in December and Takoma in January | PoPville


Independent Publisher

Independent Publisher: THE Voice of the Independent Publishing Industry


Chronicle Books

Support Your Local Bookstore and Give Books! (Part 2) | Chronicle Books Blog


Huffington Post

Obama Stuns Us (And Bookstore Shoppers, We Assume) In Leather Jacket, Dark Jeans



Anthony Marra, David Finkel win first-ever Carla Cohen Literary Prize - Bookmarks


Travel & Leisure

America's Best Bookstores- Page 5 - Articles | Travel + Leisure


Quivering Pen

The Quivering Pen: Bookstore of the Month: Politics and Prose


Conde Nast Traveler

Washington, D.C.'s Best New and Used Bookstores - Condé Nast Traveler


Business Insider

Best Bookstores In The World 2014 - Business Insider


Daily Candy

Capitol City Charm | The Best Kids’ Bookstores | Everywhere


The Glass List

A Bookstore and a Dream Bank



Bookshops For Big Readers - Washington DC | Yelp


Freelancers Union

America's coolest indie bookstores and cafés - Freelancers Union



With National Book Festival, Politics & Prose Lands Biggest Stage Yet | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

The Art of the Political Memoir - The Kojo Nnamdi Show



44 Great American Bookstores Every Book Lover Must Visit

Hillary Clinton, Liberated - BuzzFeed News



Peek at the Staff Picks Shelves From Indie Bookstores All Over America – Flavorwire

Indie Bookstores’ Great Business Practices – Flavorwire

45 Great American Indie Bookstores to Support This Holiday Season


Book Riot

Innovative Indies: Shop Independent No Matter Where You Live - Book Recommendations and Reviews | BOOK RIOT

Not all Bunnies and Birthday Cake: Experts on the State of Picture Books - Book Recommendations and Reviews | BOOK RIOT


Roll Call

Politics and Prose, Busboys and Poets Join Forces

Politics & Prose Gives Amazon the Business - Heard on the Hill


Fishbowl DC

The Ten Most Crowd-Pleasing Quotes at Hillary Clinton’s Talk at GW | FishbowlDC

Politics & Prose Highlights Thread at Union Market | FishbowlDC


Washington Independent Review of Books

6 Things We Learned from Our Day at Politics and Prose | Washington Independent Review of Books

Politics & Prose Calls for Submissions for New D.C.-Based Anthology | Washington Independent Review of Books


Bookselling This Week

Politics & Prose to Showcase Fellow Indies at National Book Festival | American Booksellers Association

Politics & Prose Named Official Bookseller for National Book Festival | American Booksellers Association



Liberated Hillary Clinton takes sigh of relief after first leg of book tour blitz – CNN Political Ticker - Blogs

Obama does some ‘Small Business Saturday’ shopping – CNN Political Ticker - Blogs


LA Times

President Obama shops local for books with Sasha and Malia - LA Times

Obama buys spy novel, sports and kids' books on shopping trip - LA Times



Best Children’s Bookstores in Washington, D.C. « CBS DC

Best Specialty Bookstores In Washington DC « CBS DC

Best Places To Buy Mother’s Day Gifts In Washington DC « CBS DC


New York Times

Honoring Small Business, Obamas Go Book Shopping -

In Obama’s Book List, Glimpses of His Journey -

A Rustic-Looking Respite and a Home for Authors -

Bookstore in Capital Seeks Its Next Chapter -


USA Today

Obama marks Small Business Saturday at D.C. bookstore

10Best: Bookstores around the USA

Discover DC's Libraries and Literary Landmarks in One Day: [CITY] Tours & Itineraries Article by

Iain Banks' final work to be a book of poetry

Nine destination bookstores worth putting on a tourist's itinerary -


Publishers Weekly

PW and the Obamas: Meeting Up at Politics & Prose to Buy Books

Nonfiction in Picture Books: A Panel Discussion

First Carla Furstenberg Cohen Lit Prize Winners Revealed

A Better Investment Than Pizza: Discussing Picture Books at Politics and Prose



Politics and Prose Celebrates 30 Years in Business | Books | Washingtonian

Hillary Clinton Is Candidential | Books | Washingtonian

New Carla Cohen Literary Prize, First Winners Announced | Books | Washingtonian

What I’ve Learned: Politics & Prose’s Barbara Meade | People & Politics | Washingtonian

Washingtonian Favorites: Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade | Washingtonian Favorites | Washingtonian


Washington City Paper

Politics & Prose to Take Over Busboys and Poets’ Bookstores - Arts Desk

District Lines, Reviewed - Washington City Paper

Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices at Lisner Auditorium - Arts Desk

Tonight is World Book Night, And You Could Get a Free Book - Arts Desk

Politics and Prose's Social Network: How Much is a Beloved D.C. Bookstore Really Worth? - Washington City Paper

Reader Poll: D.C.'s Best Book Store 2014 - Washington City Paper

Reader Poll: D.C.'s Best Book Store 2013 - Washington City Paper

Reader Poll: D.C.'s Best Book Store 2012 - Washington City Paper

Reader Poll: D.C.'s Best Book Store 2011 - Washington City Paper


Washington Post

Mystery: Who will Cara Black take to Paris? - The Washington Post

Authors to visit D.C. for Indies First, a campaign for independent bookstores - The Washington Post

2014: A good year for book lovers - The Washington Post

Politics and Prose will open satellite stores in Busboys and Poets restaurants - The Washington Post

Politics & Prose offers ‘a room of one’s own’ - The Washington Post

Politics and Prose wins National Book Festival contract - The Washington Post

Politics & Prose publishes ‘District Lines’ II - The Washington Post

Hillary Clinton and Lissa Muscatine: From first lady and speechwriter to author and bookseller - The Washington Post

Is your book club this fancy? - The Washington Post

New literary prize in honor of late Politics & Prose Bookstore co-owner - The Washington Post

Independent bookstores turn a new page on brick-and-mortar retailing - The Washington Post

5 bookstores recommend 5 titles for Valentine’s Day - The Washington Post

Parenting advice: How to get your kid to love to read - The Washington Post

Inspiring the reluctant reader - The Washington Post

Obama shops at well-known Washington bookstore Politics and Prose - The Washington Post

Customizable classics at Politics & Prose - The Washington Post

Politics & Prose Bookstore offers free shipping over Memorial Day weekend - The Washington Post

‘Saturday Night Live’ spoofs Paula Broadwell’s reading at Politics & Prose (video) - The Reliable Source - The Washington Post

Literary Washington: Where to get your fix when the book festival ends - The Washington Post

D.C. ranked most literate city in the nation - The Buzz - The Washington Post

Doonesbury Strip

Print your own book at Politics & Prose - The Washington Post

Thomas Heath - Bookish Doyennes Nurture D.C. Landmark

The Changing Bookstore Battle