Sunday, July 1, 2012
When Black Bookstores Disappear
I was disappointed to hear this morning that Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem is set to close on July 31. I've visited the store several times over the last few years, taking groups of students with me along the way. I was pleased to catch a talk by Randall Kennedy at Hue-Man in May, and I was there again with the Fellows from the African American Literatures and Cultures Institute in June.
I could go on and on about what I've gained by visiting various new and used bookstores over the years and how black bookstores, for example, have contributed to my intellectual growth. What I will have a harder time quantifying is what I think is loss when black bookstores disappear in particular areas. It's an important loss, but how will people who come along without black bookstore options understand what they are missing?
I'm not sure what public places young readers and curious minds go to view large collections of black books. Perhaps the local Barnes and Noble has an "African American section." However, those fancy stores rarely have extensive selections of old books, and it's unlikely for folks to stumble across dated black classics or to discover some author or book that appears to have been forgotten.
Considerable browsing and shopping for books takes place online nowadays, which helps explain why relatively small bookstores struggle to stay in business. It's perhaps easier to find exactly what you're looking for online. Interestingly, what I enjoyed about my experiences in used bookstores over the years was finding titles and authors that I was not necessarily looking for.
• Black Intellectual Histories