Black-owned bookstores are spaces that foster community, support emerging authors, educate, and lift up and celebrate Black voices and stories. Read it Forward asked 17 Black authors to tell us about their favorite Black-owned bookstores in the U.S. and around the world, most of which are available to fulfill orders via their websites, or the phone. When you go to make your next book purchase, support one of these vital independent bookstores.
Mikki Kendall, author of Hood Feminism and Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists with illustrator A. D’Amico:
“I love all indie bookstores, but my favorite Black-owned one is new! It’s the Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery in Chicago. It’s a cool little oasis and one that I hope I can spend more time in soon!”
In her searing collection of essays, Mikki Kendall takes aim at the legitimacy of the modern feminist movement arguing that it has chronically failed to address the needs of all but a few women. Drawing on her own experiences with hunger, violence, and hypersexualization, along with incisive commentary on politics, pop culture, the stigma of mental health, and more, Hood Feminism delivers an irrefutable indictment of a movement in flux.
Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists
The ongoing struggle for women’s rights has spanned human history, touched nearly every culture on Earth, and encompassed a wide range of issues, such as the right to vote, work, get an education, own property, exercise bodily autonomy, and beyond. Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists is a fun and fascinating graphic novel-style primer that covers the key figures and events that have advanced women’s rights from antiquity to the modern era.
Wil Haygood, author of In Black and White:
“I love Mahogany Books in Washington, D.C. They care so much about books that it seems something akin to a religion for them.”
In Black and White
For decades one of America’s most recognizable stars, the real Sammy Davis, Jr. has long remained hidden behind the persona the performer so vigorously generated—and so fiercely protected. In Black and White vividly recounts this untold story, tracing Davis, Jr.’s journey from the vaudeville stage to Broadway, Hollywood, and, of course, Las Vegas. Wil Haygood brings Davis’s life into full relief against the backdrop of an America in the throes of racial change. He made his living entertaining white people but was often denied service in the very venues he played, and in his broad and varied friendships—not to mention his romances—Davis crossed racial lines in ways few others had.
MaryAnne Howland, author of Warrior Rising:
“I just adore Alkebu-Lan Images Bookstore in Nashville, TN.”
When MaryAnne Howland’s son was turning thirteen she organized a “Black Mitzvah” rite of passage celebration for him. Max is one of the one-in-three children in America being raised without a father in the home. To help fill the father-shaped hole in Max’s life as he transitioned from boyhood to manhood, MaryAnne invited four men from different corners of her life—an engineer, a philanthropist, a publisher, and a financial planner—to become Max’s mentors. Through his adolescence, Max’s mentors have shared valuable insights with him about what it means to be a good man in the face of life’s challenges.
Brit Bennett, author of The Vanishing Half:
“Eso Won Books in Los Angeles. I was able to launch my debut novel at Eso Won, so the store will always have a special place in my heart. But beyond this, I’ve been able to meet the store owner, James, whose encyclopedic knowledge of Black literature makes him a fascinating conversation partner. I’ve been so heartened to read about the spike of interest in Eso Won and I’m glad that readers are flocking to support this vital L.A. institution.”
The Vanishing Half
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
Latasha Morrison, author of Be the Bridge:
“My favorite Black-owned book store is The Lit. Bar in Bronx, New York.”
Be the Bridge
In an era where we seem to be increasingly divided along racial lines, many are hesitant to step into the gap, fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing. At times the silence, particularly within the church, seems deafening. But change begins with an honest conversation among a group of Christians willing to give a voice to unspoken hurts, hidden fears, and mounting tensions. These ongoing dialogues have formed the foundation of a global movement called Be the Bridge—a nonprofit organization whose goal is to equip the church to have a distinctive and transformative response to racism and racial division. In this book, founder Latasha Morrison shows how you can participate in this incredible work and replicate it in your own community.
Afia Atakora, author of Conjure Women:
“My favorite Black-owned bookstore is Harriet’s Bookshop in Philadelphia, PA!”
Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife; and their master’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.
Antoinette M. Clarke and Tricia Clarke-Stone, authors of Double Down:
“One of our favorite Black-owned bookstores is Cafe Con Libros—a bookstore and coffee shop in Brooklyn committed to amplifying the voices of women and girls around the world. We were raised in Brooklyn by a single mom so it’s empowering to see this type of bookstore so close to where we grew up. It’s more than just a bookstore, it’s an experience and a celebrated community that allows you to go on a journey that connects with all the possibilities life has to offer through reading.”
Antoinette M. Clarke
As African American women who have climbed their way to the highest ranks of the media world, Tricia and Antoinette have learned that to win when the deck is stacked against you, you need to ditch the old Status Quo rules. Whether you’re starting your career, wondering why you’re not further along, or looking to pivot, you’ve got to double down on yourself, and you’ve got to cultivate a group of people who will double down on you, too. Here, they share their wisdom with the next generation of Boss Ladies looking to up their game.
Toni Tipton-Martin, author of Jubilee:
“I grew up near Eso Wan Books in Los Angeles and held my first book signing there many years ago.”
Throughout her career, Toni Tipton-Martin has shed new light on the history, breadth, and depth of African American cuisine. She’s introduced us to black cooks, some long forgotten, who established much of what’s considered to be our national cuisine. After all, if Thomas Jefferson introduced French haute cuisine to this country, who do you think actually cooked it? In Jubilee, Tipton-Martin brings these masters into our kitchens. Through over 100 recipes and stories, we cook along with these pioneering figures, from enslaved chefs to middle- and upper-class writers and entrepreneurs.
Abi Daré, author of The Girl with the Louding Voice:
“My favorite Black-owned bookstore is Roving Heights Bookstore in Lagos, Nigeria!”
The Girl with the Louding Voice
Adunni is a fourteen-year-old Nigerian girl who knows what she wants: an education. This, her mother has told her, is the only way to get a “louding voice”—the ability to speak for herself and decide her own future. But instead, her father sells her to be the third wife of a local man who is eager for her to bear him a son and heir. When Adunni runs away to the city, she finds that the only other option before her is servitude to a wealthy family. But while misfortunes might muffle her voice for a time, they cannot mute it. And when she realizes that she must stand up not only for herself, but for other girls, for the ones who came before her and were lost, and for the next girls who will inevitably follow, she finds the resolve to speak, however she can, until she is heard.
Denise Williams, author of How to Fail at Flirting:
“Unfortunately, there aren’t any Black-owned bookstores near me that I know of, but my book takes place in Chicago and Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery is listed as Chicago’s only black woman-owned bookstore and gallery space and is doing phenomenal work for the community, recently raising over $130K to promote and support literacy and a love of reading for Chicago Public School students.”
How to Fail at Flirting
When her flailing department lands on the university’s chopping block, Professor Naya Turner’s friends convince her to have an evening on the town. For one night, her focus strays from her demanding job and when she meets a charming stranger in town on business, he presents the perfect opportunity to have a no-strings-attached hookup. Soon she’s flirting with the chance at a more serious romantic relationship with Jake—except the complicated strings around her dating him might destroy her career. Naya has two options. She can protect her professional reputation and return to her old life or she can flirt with the unknown and stay with the person who makes her feel like she’s finally living again.
Bernice L. McFadden, author of Sugar:
“My favorite Black-owned bookstore is Mahogany Books in Washington, DC.”
Bernice L. McFadden
A young prostitute comes to Bigelow, Arkansas, to start over, far from her haunting past. Sugar moves next door to Pearl, who is still grieving for the daughter who was murdered fifteen years before. Over sweet-potato pie, an unlikely friendship begins, transforming both women’s lives—and the life of an entire town. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, to read this novel is to take a journey through loss and suffering to a place of forgiveness, understanding, and grace.
Andie J. Christopher, author of Not That Kind of Guy:
“My favorite Black-owned bookstore is Loyalty Books in the Petworth neighborhood in Washington, DC. It’s been an extremely inviting space for romance, and you don’t even have to go outside to get to a bar. They are currently fulfilling orders online and through contactless pickup, but I can’t wait until they open their doors again.”
Not That Kind of Guy
Andie J. Christopher
State attorney Bridget Nolan is successful in all aspects of her life—except romance. After breaking up with her longtime boyfriend, she’s been slow to reenter the dating scene. But with her brother’s wedding right around the corner, she suddenly needs a date and fast. Lucky for Bridget, the legal intern is almost done with his program. Matt Kido is dumbstruck by Bridget—total love at first sight—but there’s one problem. She’s totally off-limits while she’s his boss. But the moment he no longer reports to her, Matt decides to take a chance. An impulsive decision takes them to Las Vegas where, as the saying goes, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Unless you put a ring on it.
Alexis Henderson, author of The Year of Witching:
“I live in Charleston, South Carolina, and my local black-owned bookstore is Turning Page Bookshop. I haven’t had the chance to visit due to the pandemic, but it’s one of the first places I want to go once I’m out of quarantine!”
The Year of the Witching
In Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement. But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood. Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she learns grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes that if Bethel’s darkness is going to change, it must begin with her.
Abby Collette, author of A Deadly Inside Scoop:
“Elizabeth’s Bookshop and Writing Centre in Akron, Ohio. It’s close to home and it is geared toward marginalized writers and books.”
A Deadly Inside Scoop
Recent MBA grad Bronwyn Crewse has just taken over her family’s ice cream shop and she’s going back to basics. Win’s renovating Crewse Creamery to restore its former glory, and filling the menu with her grandmother’s delicious, homemade ice cream flavors. But unexpected construction delays mean she misses the summer season, and the shop has a literal cold opening: the day she opens, an early first snow descends and keeps the customers away. To make matters worse, that evening, Win finds a body in the snow, and the dead man was a grifter with an old feud with the Crewse family. Soon, Win’s father is implicated in his death. It’s not easy to juggle a new business while solving a crime, but Win is determined to do it.
Kwana Jackson, author of Real Men Knit:
“If you’re looking for a great Black-owned indie bookstore, I’d like to recommend Sister’s Uptown Bookstore in Harlem, New York in the Washington Heights area, my born and bred stomping ground. With New York still working in phases, they are accepting orders for shipping, so please check them out and place your order today!”
Real Men Knit
Jesse Strong is known for two things: his devotion to his adoptive mom, Mama Joy, and his reputation for breaking hearts. When Mama Joy unexpectedly passes away, he and his brothers have different plans for what to do with Strong Knits, their neighborhood knitting store. Jesse wants to keep the store open. His brothers want to tie off loose ends and close shop. Part-time shop employee Kerry Fuller has kept her crush on Jesse a secret. When she overhears his impassioned plea to his brothers to keep the knitting shop open, she volunteers to help. But the more time they spend together, the stronger the chemistry builds between them.
Jeni McFarland, author of The House of Deep Water:
“My favorite black-owned bookstore is Black Stone Bookstore and Cultural Center in Ypsilanti, MI.”
The House of Deep Water
River Bend, Michigan, is the kind of small town most can’t imagine leaving, but three women couldn’t wait to escape. When each must return–Linda Williams, never sure what she wants; her mother, Paula, always too sure; and Beth DeWitt, one of River Bend’s only black daughters, now a mother of two who’d planned to raise her own children anywhere else–their paths collide under Beth’s father’s roof. As one town struggles to contain all of their love affairs and secrets, a local scandal forces Beth to confront her own devastating past.
Jane Igharo, author of Ties That Tether:
“The Jazzhole, located in Lagos, Nigeria, is a cozy spot with a retro vibe. The store sells used and new books and an extensive selection of vinyl records. It’s also a music venue for local artists. Going there is an experience!”
Ties That Tether
At twelve years old, Azere promised her dying father she would marry a Nigerian man and preserve her culture, even after immigrating to Canada. Her mother has been vigilant about helping—well forcing—her to stay within the Nigerian dating pool ever since. But when another match-made-by-mom goes wrong, Azere ends up at a bar, enjoying the company of Rafael Castellano, a man who is tall, handsome, and…white. Soon, Azere is caught between her feelings for Rafael and the compulsive need to please her mother. Can she be with him without compromising her identity? The answer will either cause Azere to be audacious and fight for her happiness or continue as the compliant daughter.