In honor of Black History Month, we’re revisiting this story that was originally published in 2020, along with an updated directory of Black-owned bookstores by state. If you can’t make it to one of these 133 stores in person, you can support them online by shopping the from Black-owned stores on bookshop.org—where you can also check out Oprah’s Book Club recommendations for Black History Month 2024!
In the wake of the tragic killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor—combined with the global uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic—the United States is in the midst of a national revolution. While institutionalized racism and police brutality have long been a part of America’s history, millions across the country are now reconciling with and addressing generations of racial inequality. For some, that means taking to the streets in protest. For others, it’s uplifting the cause by supporting Black-owned businesses, or seeking education through anti-racist literature.
Because of the latter, one industry that’s seen an influx of support and attention are Black-owned bookstores. Many shops across the country are overwhelmed with customers due to the collective push to both “buy Black” and read books written by Black authors.
“We’ve definitely seen a surge in our book sales, specifically for our titles on racism and history in this country,” says Onikah Asamoa-Caesar, owner of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Fulton Street Books—which had its grand opening with limited capacity due to Covid-19—on July 3. “When I think of meaningful change in the community, reading and having more information is amazing. Now we have to figure out how to translate that and support folks in taking things from theory to practice.”
Kalima Desuze, owner of Cafe con Libros in Brooklyn, New York, describes recent business as both “lucrative” and “bittersweet.”
“Many folks are buying books, but may not have a home to dialogue about it,” she says. “This work cannot be done in isolation; we all need community. I’m tired of solidarity with Black folks only coming after death when some of us have spent our lives talking about and organizing against systemic racism… So, while I definitely appreciate the support, it’s been hard to profit off the bodies of fictive kin.”
It should also be remembered that independent book stores owned by African Americans have been around for decades. The oldest in the country is Oakland, California’s Marcus Books, which opened its doors in 1960 and is still in business today. There are now more than a hundred other Black-owned establishments in the country, and though they make up just 6 percent of indie bookselling companies in the U.S., they’re home to powerful works that serve to educate and amplify vital voices.
“The stories have always been there, and the experiences have always been there, but not everybody was comfortable talking about them,” says La’Nae Robinson, who co-owns Bliss Books & Wine in Kansas City with her sister, La’Nesha Frazier. “So I think now that it’s more in the spotlight, it’s creating more conversations, and people are open to having conversations—and they’re actually holding them in their hands and educating themselves on topics that they just didn’t think about.”
From online book boutique Sistah Scifi—a shop that strictly sells Afrofuturism novels—to children’s bookstore The Listening Tree in Decatur, Georgia, there are plenty of diverse Black-owned bookstores you can safely shop at right now, and always, no matter how much (or little) the nation is focused on a longtime continuing struggle. Below, our official directory of Black-owned bookstores in America, starting in Arkansas and ending in Washington, D.C. We’ve also noted the favorite shops of renowned authors like Tayari Jones, Deshawn Winslow, Jackie Woodson, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and Kiley Reid.
Sistah Scifi is a digital book boutique that offers merchandise and monthly Zoom book club meetings focused on Afrofuturism novels. Learn more at sistahscifi.com.
- Ashay by the Bay – Vallejo, CA
- The Collective Oakland – Oakland, CA
- D3 Comic Book Spot – Richmond, CA
- Malik Books – Los Angeles California
- Marcus Books – Oakland, CA
- The Multicultural Children’s Bookstore – Richmond, CA
- Old Capitol Books – Monterey, CA
- Octavia’s Bookshelf – Pasadena, CA
- Reparations Club– Los Angeles, CA
- The Salt Eaters Bookshop – Inglewood, CA
- Shades of Africa – Long Beach, CA
- *Sistah Scifi – Oakland, CA
- Underground Books – Sacramento, CA
The Listening Tree accepts online orders and offers a national online course called the Young Entrepreneurs Program for children aged 8-12, and 13-18. At the end of the course, the students obtain an LLC. Learn more at listeningtreebooks.com.
The Covid-19 pandemic momentarily halted Bliss Books & Wine’s search for a brick-and-mortar store, but they accept online orders and offer monthly Zoom book discussions. Learn more at blissbooksandwine.com.
Cafe con Libros is an “intersectional feminist community.” You can subscribe to their podcast “Black Feminist and Bookish” on their website cafeconlibrosbk.com. Purchase their books through bookshop.org.
- Blenheim Hill Books – Hobart, NY
- Cafe con Libros – Brooklyn, NY – A Jacqueline Woodson favorite
- Grandma’s Place – New York, NY
- The Lit. Bar – Bronx, NY – A Jacqueline Woodson, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and Safiya Sinclair favorite
- Revolution Books – New York, NY
- The Schomburg Shop – New York, NY – A Kevin Young favorite
- Sister’s Uptown – New York, NY – A Jacqueline Woodson favorite
- Zawadi Books – Buffalo, NY
Fulton Street Books, which had its grand opening on July 3, is open to patrons, but with capacity limits. You can purchase merchandise, like their signature “Ally Box,” through their site www.fultonstreet918.com.. Purchase their books through bookshop.org.
*Strictly online bookseller
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McKenzie Jean-Philippe is the editorial assistant at OprahMag.com covering pop culture, TV, movies, celebrity, and lifestyle. She loves a great Oprah viral moment and all things Netflix—but come summertime, Big Brother has her heart. On a day off you’ll find her curled up with a new juicy romance novel.