The tragic and senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery coupled with the rise in Asian American hate crimes amidst a literary censorship of voices of color; not only sparked a nationwide outrage, but subsequently unearthed global interest and conversations surrounding diverse books, narratives, and businesses. Due to a lack of representation both in publishing and in bookstore ownership prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, women of color have moved to the forefront of the narrative and are slaying it on the literary frontlines. With so much information out there, and a rapidly evolving literary landscape to navigate, BUST is here to assist you with a roundup of awesome WOC owned bookstores.
Here are 13 WOC-owned bookstore—and the powerhouse women behind them—you can get into right now:
Duende District: New Mexico and Washington DC
Angela María Spring is a poet, author, editor, journalist, and the owner of Duende District. Spring, a Latinx woman of Puerto Rican and Central American descent, has been delivering rich cultural content via her bookstores for nearly 20 years. Her boutique, pop-ups and mobile bookstores proudly cater to the BIPOC community which is a testament to her motto todas las voces—all the voices. For us, by us. Not only is she a champion for her community, but she's also an advocate for decolonizing publishing. In an interview with Lithub, Spring expressed her ambivalence surrounding race growing up, “I have never been blind to the deep racial inequalities this country was built upon, but my privilege has allowed me to exist in a state where I believed our institutions were capable of change.” Duende District continues to be at the forefront of literary change. They currently have locations in New Mexico and Washington, DC. Wherever they are we are here for it. You can visit: www.duendedistrict.com for a specially curated list of books. Wepa!
SemiColon Bookstore: Chicago, IL
Semi Colon Bookstore is a one-of-a-kind Black woman-owned bookstore and gallery space that focuses on Black comfort. Owner, Dr. Danielle Mullen started her business after her fight with cancer left her unable to work. "I want to see little Black babies deciding that they want to own a bookstore of all things. You don't have to rap, sing, act, play basketball, you don't have to do that, you can do whatever you want. Black people are incredibly nuanced, and I try to prove that fact, every day," Mullen said in an interview with ABC News Chicago. The bookstore has a #cleartheshelves initiative where each month, they invite students from Chicago Public Schools to the store for free books. Visit www.semicolonchi.com for more information on what they have coming up.
Phillipine Expressions: San Pedro, California
Phillipine Expressions is a Filipina-owned bookshop dedicated to Filipino Americans in search of their roots, which is an important endeavor considering the wide-scale and systemic whitewashing of Phillipine culture that is frequently found in American literature. It’s no wonder Philippine Expressions’ trailblazing owner Linda Nietes has been in business for over 37 years. The place feels like a sanctuary for your mind. The bookstore carries books in Tagalog and English for all ages. Guests are encouraged to join a book club, shop their art gallery next door, and participate in story time with their little ones. Visit: www.phillipinebookshop.com.
Photo Courtesy of You & Me Books
You & Me Books: NY, NY
“Come stop in for a cozy home that welcomes you too.” These words invite you to visit Yu & Me Books, the newly minted bookstore/bar/cafe, located in NYC's Chinatown, from the store's website. The shop is owned by 27- year old Lucy Yu, a former Los Angeles resident and chemical engineer, who felt books were more her calling and decided to open up shop. Yu is believed to be the first female Asian-American bookstore owner in New York City. The shop is filled with books that are carefully curated for "you and me", with mainly immigrant stories and stories with people of color at their center. Yu & Me Books carries almost 16,000 titles, with titles that range from YaYa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom to memoirs like Qian Julie Wang’s Beautiful Country, and other lesser-known writers from Southeast Asia and Oceania. From the beginning, Yu wanted a place that featured narratives where she felt she could find her grandmother. It would appear that she cares deeply about family considering her website is filled with framed photos. Kind of like what you would see at—home. In the near future the shop will feature food. But in the meantime, you can catch up on your Lunar New Year reading, or pick up the latest novel by your favorite author. Between Yu & Me, they’ll have you covered. Visit www.yuandmebooks.com.
Harriett's Bookshop: Philadelphia, PA, & Ida’s Bookshop, Collingswood, NJ
Jeannine Cook is the writer, educator, and mastermind behind this Philadelphia bookstore that conjures the spirit of Cook’s muse Harriet Tubman. A woman of color-owned feminist bookshop, Harriett’s is an intersectional space for healing, art, and activism, and serves as a celebration of Black women. A visit to the brick-and-mortar location as well as the virtual space is like entering a sanctuary. There is live music from local artists, guided tours of the shop, and a slew of events. Cook is the author of Conversations with Harriet, which you can also purchase from her second bookstore, Ida’s Bookshop. Ida's is named after famed investigative journalist, activist and author Ida B. Wells. In the spirit of both Tubman and Wells, Cook is drawing on some powerful energies. It's no wonder business is doing well, Cook’s vision feels expansive, and she has somehow created an online community that feels magical. I don’t think she’ll be slowing down any time soon. In fact, I think she's just beginning. You can support Harriett’s Bookshop by stopping by her website and shopping.
Ever been to a Blk woman owned bookshop w/ a Blk woman playing vibraphone while you browse? We are open today from 12-6 pm, pic.twitter.com/DPZ75i8bUp
Birchbark Books: Minneapolis, MN
This Indigenous bookstore is owned by Louise Erdrich, the Pulitzer-winning author of The Nightwatchman, and a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Birchbark is a neighborhood bookstore, fueled by people who believe in good writing, handmade crafts, and the beauty and strength of native culture. All of the books are chosen with love and with their readers in mind. The store goes beyond books in its efforts to carefully assist educators with book choices (they have an in-house educator specialist!) and thoughtful suggestions on handmade items to accompany your purchase. If you enjoy a more personalized encounter and concierge book services delivered with care Birchbark has you covered. Be sure to pop in and say Boozhoo! (That's Ojibwe for hello).
Elizabeths Bookshop and Writing Centre: Akron, Ohio
Elizabeths Bookshop and Writing Center – is a Black Woman Owned bookstore and writing center. Founder Rachel Cargyle is a modern-day renaissance woman with her hands in all things literary, entrepreneurial, and philanthropic. She also founded the Loveland Foundation, which has a special mission of uplifting Black women and girls and showing up compassionately for communities of color. Cargyle’s whole vibe feels welcoming and authentic. It’s probably why her endeavors draw people from all walks of life, including some big celeb names and organizations like Saint Heron and Kelis - who follow her on Instagram. According to their website, Elizabeth’s Bookshop and Writing Center “highlights, promotes, and honors the work of writers of color, LGBTQ+, disabled and other marginalized authors who are often excluded from traditional cultural, social, and academic conversations." For more information about the bookstore and its many events visit: www.elizabethsofakron.com.
Turning Page: Goosecreek, South Carolina
Valinda Miller is the owner of this South Carolina treasure. This Washington, D.C. native was raised largely by her grandmother and has been a low country bookseller for over six years. In an interview with the Southern Independent Alliance of Books, Miller shared the fond memories of how she fell in love with books:
"The love generated by my grandmother (she had to drop out of school when she was 14 years old) who walked me to my first library because she knew Rep. John Lewis and other blacks were denied a library card. Rep. John Lewis, as was my grandmother, was told that libraries were for whites only and she was powerfully determined to see that I got a library card and read every book in that library."
This history fuels her mission to amplify Black voices in literature and for other marginalized groups. Miller is currently looking to open a second location. For now, you can visit her in person, or on the web at www.turningpagebookshop.com.
The Lit: Bar Bronx, NY
The Lit Bar opened its doors in 2019. It is the only brick and mortar bookstore serving the 1.5 million people located in the Bronx, NY. Noelle Santos, who is of African American and Puerto Rican descent, is the proprietress of the establishment. What makes the Lit Bar so fun, is it’s literally “lit” in there. There’s not just books, but a wine bar, where guests can both sip and read. What better way to unwind on Friday night than with a glass of Bourdeaux and a good read? Lit Bar carries a variety of titles for people of all ages. Feel free to pull up in person, or on the web, at TheLitBar.
The Secondhand Librarian: Rochester, NY
The Secondhand Librarian (TSL) is a bookshop focused on sustainability and accessibility. Their website slogan states: “Reading Is Knowledge and Knowledge Is Power.” Based on TSL's insta, Taylor has some pretty interesting fantasy options to explore. She seems to be on a Sara J. Mass kick, but she could be over that now-- don't hold me to it. Taylor Ellis, the owner of The Secondhand Librarian, began her bookselling journey by selling her old books online, and at pop-ups in and around her Rochester, NY neighborhood. If you are looking to shop in person, they're located inside the LaLuna Co-op in Rochester, NY. Visit: www.thesecondhandlibrarian.com.
Barrio Books: Tuscon, AZ
This LatinX bookshop is quickly becoming a local Tucson staple for independent books. The bookstore, owned by Syrena Arevalo-Trujillo, is rooted in its mission of cultural representation. Arevalo-Trujillo founded Barrio Books in the spring of 2019. According to their site, "it's the only bi-lingual bookstore in the area touting new and used book for all ages. In January of 2021, Barrio opened their brick-and-mortar location in partnership with the vingtage styled Hotel McCoy. The hotel gives a 10% kindness discount for being kind. All you have to do is tell them what you did when you check in. And while you're there, don't forget to grab your book from Barrio Books.
Top photo courtesy of Thought Catalog via Unsplash
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Chiara Atoyebi is an writer, artist, actress and educator. She is also a MFA Writing graduate at SCAD. Chiara prides her self on being nearly off-grid in the city and is always finding ways to make things scratch. Her two guilty pleasures are Venti Pike's from Starbucks and impromptu hugs. Follow Chiara on Twitter @chiarawritesit or chiaratoyebi.com.