|A few selections from my personal collection|
I owe a tremendous debt to bookstores like the Strand as well as to a range of black bookstores I visited over the years. I'm also indebted to black folks who collected books and shared their personal collections with me like my good friend Donald Garcia.
At some point, moving forward, I'm trying to reflect on some my experiences engaging bookstores and also folks' personal collections that I checked out. Looking back might help me come to a clearer understanding of the routes of some my current activities such as hosting book sales on campus and developing my own expansive collection. I'm also wondering how changing times and economics shaped the struggles that black bookstores faced, leading many to close.
Having said that, I've been distracted the last few days with this piece "Karibu Story Part 1: Exhausting a Means of Struggle" by poet and teacher Yao Glover, the former owner of Karibu Books. It's a really useful article from a cultural worker who has a key grasp on the industry of bookselling, particularly black bookselling. Typically, you hear nostalgic takes when folks are talking about their relationships to black books. Bro. Yao ain't on that though.
I mean, sure, he mentions the good times and positive of maintaining a black bookstore. But he also alludes to struggles and places those struggles, which led to Karibu's eventual closing, into larger context. There are all kinds of valuable nuggets of information throughout the essay, but here's one that caught my attention on a re-read earlier today:
By constantly promoting The Mis-Education of the Negro [by historian Carter G. Woodson], we thought we could, in some ways, counteract those gigantic forces of history with our tiny bookstore. Part of Woodson’s argument in the Mis-Education is that the majority of the education Negroes receive is impractical. He argues that much of the time spent studying books, culture and philosophy could be better spent if we would learn the ways of business. As a black bookstore, we stood in a peculiar place where we actualized Woodson’s ideas about practicality, but also fed into the structure of ideas and culture full of impracticalities and fancies about entertainment, stars and “celebrity intellectuals.” Though we made constant reference to, and even joked about, a wide range of people we encountered operating from the position of being mis-educated, our own estimates that we could somehow counteract all the forces of Negro history with our tiny bookstore reflected a mis-education of our own.So much to consider there. For now, I'm drawn to his emphasis on inadequate attention "the ways of business" in relation to bookstores and book culture. I also want to give more thought to what he was writing about "impracticalities."
The title of Glover's blog is "Free Black Space," and that notion is useful, no, the notion is absent right here in St. Louis when I start searching my mind for any space, like a black bookstore, where let's say, conscious folks might gather and converse, or also where practical minded folks might sharpen their abilities to avoid the pitfalls of mis-education that Bro. Yao was mentioning.