GOOD Education: Here's What Happens When Stores Carry Books By Women, People of Color - And No One Else

Here’s What Happens When Stores Carry Books By Women, People Of Color — And No One Else

When opening a bookstore in the Bronx feels like a radical act.by Anya Alvarez

August 29, 2017

A FEW WEEKS AGO WHILE DUSTING THE BOOKSHELVES IN MY LIVING ROOM, I stopped to browse through the authors in my book collection. As I looked at the names of the writers whose work I have enjoyed over the years, I saw something I’d never noticed: a majority of my books were written by white people. This was true for my nonfiction books about civil rights, and not a single novel I owned was written by a person of color. Only one book stood out that provided the voice of a person of color: bell hooks’ “All About Love.”

I am a Latinx woman raised in a household that did not teach me about my Mexican heritage. When my father immigrated to the U.S. and married my white mother over 30 years ago, acceptance and representation of other cultures were not generally welcomed. So my father banned speaking Spanish in our home, and I was trained to be a good, proud, white American.

This particular upbringing is reflected in the books I have acquired throughout the years. I began to have a deeper awareness of the racial and ethnic background of the authors I read after I was introduced to Angela Maria Spring. In February, Spring debuted her first pop-up bookstore, Duende District, in Washington, D.C., with one goal in mind: feature only authors who are people of color.

 You end up bearing the weight of your entire culture in your writing because so few of our voices and stories are actually published.

“People of color don't see themselves or their stories reflected in stories or bookstore shelves. POC authors have huge difficulty trying to be published because publishers reach their quota of black stories, or Latino stories, etc.,” says Spring. Her experiences as a writer, she says, have led to her feeling “enormous pressure to be the best Latino poet or writer, and you end up bearing the weight of your entire culture in your writing because so few of our voices and stories are actually published. Then, add on to that, you have to represent what white culture expects your culture to be.”

Spring, 35, is of Panamanian and Puerto Rican descent, with a background in writing and the book business. She earned her MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and has spent more than a decade learning the ins and outs of the book business. In the beginning of her career, she worked for Books of Wonder, a popular children’s bookstore, and later for McNally Jackson in New York City. She later found herself at the popular D.C.-based Politics & Prose, which prides itself on featuring authors who are people of color.

For nearly six years, Spring served as sales floor manager and display coordinator at Politics & Prose. Despite working for one of the most popular and diverse bookstores in the city, she felt like she could do more to showcase the voices of marginalized authors. This is where the idea to open Duende District came to life. More importantly, Spring wanted her pop-up bookstore to serve communities that are book deserts. In particular, she wanted to create a bookstore that offers books where characters look like the people in the community and where history fully includes their point of view.

 

Daisy Hernandez dropped by the Artomatic pop-up at Duende District to sign copies of her memoir, “A Cup of Water Under My Bed.” Image courtesy the author.

“The lack of truly multicultural representation harms every corner of this country. We have stories to tell about us living our lives every day beyond our oppression,” says Spring. “Yes, our oppression exists, but we will never stop being oppressed if that's the only mainstream view that exists. We are people, we live lives, we have stories that matter that aren't just us struggling to survive.”

Spring says a wonderful example of such a story is Pulitzer-Prize-winning African-American poet Tracy K. Smith's 2015 memoir, “Ordinary Life.” “But you basically have to be our next U.S. Poet Laureate to get these kinds of stories published as a person of color,” says Spring.

Spring is just one of many women of color who have opened bookstores specifically to get the stories of people of color out in the open.

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Angela Maria Spring