Beyond Toni Morrison: Top Twin Cities Bookstores For Buying Books By People of Color, By Chavonn Williams Shen
(Photo: Boneshaker Books table display)
Not to knock Toni Morrison, but she’s not the only person of color to have ever written a book. In a lot of local bookstores I’ve frequented I’ve had to go to the designated cultural section to find books by a person of color rather than having them on display or dispersed widely throughout the store.
I made this list to highlight amazing bookstores that have Black/Indigenous people/People of color (BIPoC) writers as a staple rather than as a token for their corresponding months. In no order, this is a list of the bookstores I believe do the most to champion communities of color.
Factors involved in making this list:
- Ownership, accessibility, and location (Are they owned by BIPoC? Are they located near these communities?)
- Books including local BIPoC writers
- Collaborations with BIPoC communities
- Diversity of experiences within selections. For example, books about Blackness unrelated to slavery/the Civil Rights era, more books about Asia written by Asians than not, Indigenous authors besides Sherman Alexie.
Owned by the legendary Louise Erdrich, Birchbark Books operates with Indigenous communities in mind, and many of their staff are from Indigenous communities themselves. Birchbark Books has a vast selection of books on Indigenous culture as well as other communities of color. I found an Ojibwe counting book for babies and a lot of tribe-specific cookbooks to name a just a fraction of their noteworthy features.
And of course, they’re never out of the latest Erdrich book, which is always a plus!
Boneshaker is almost entirely volunteer run, which gives them a lot more freedom when curating their books. Their very genre titles are revolutionary, with names like “anti-racism,” “anti-imperialism,” and “LGBTQ health.” They also have common genres, like sci-fi and biography.
Books from indie stores are inevitably more expensive than big corporations like Amazon or Target, and this can be a barrier for the bibliophile on a budget. But Boneshaker has a graphic novel library and a decent number of shelves carrying less expensive used books.
Bonus: They deliver books by bicycle within city limits for free!
Located in Minneapolis and a two minute walk from the Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue intersection, Moon Palace is hands down the most public transit-friendly of the three bookstores mentioned. On top of featuring lots of books by BIPoC, they also host multiple events, sometimes in the same month, to showcase BIPoC writers with readings and other events.
A major plus to Moon Palace is that they have a section on their website where you can pitch your book to them. If they like it, it may end up on their shelves. Though I don’t expect this from every bookstore given the costs and labor involved, it’s an awesome practice to involve BIPoC writers in the business side of writing, as such voices are seriously lacking.
I didn’t include this on the top list as they’re technically a publishing company that just so happens to run a bookstore. Located in the iconic Open Book building, patrons can browse Milkweed’s extensive collection while waiting for a meal at the adjacent cafe or enjoying work from many of the literary giants visiting The Loft Literary Center one floor above.
Owned by Black community organizer Chaun Webster and his partner, Verna Wong, this bookstore was the place to be for many artists of color. They lost their building in 2016, but have operated as a pop-up bookshop at various events. Here’s to hoping they’ll find a new home and be a North Minneapolis staple once again!
By far, this post is not exhaustive. There are plenty of great reasons to visit all the stores mentioned besides the ones I’ve listed. In addition, new bookstores are always opening and old bookstores are always updating their collections. I hope you’ll find a new favorite in one of these places and happy reading!
Did I miss your favorite BIPoC bookstore or want to share other reasons to shop indie? Comment below!
Chevonn Williams Shen
WSR Editorial Board Member, Vol. 21
Chavonn Williams Shen was a first place winner for the 2017 Still I Rise grant for African American women hosted by Alternating Current Press and a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. She was also a 2017 Best of the Net Award finalist, a winner of the 2016-2017 Mentor Series in Poetry and Creative Prose through the Loft Literary Center, and a 2016 fellow through the Givens Foundation for African American Literature. Her poetry has appeared in A3 Review, The Coil, and is forthcoming in Footnote #3: A Literary Journal of History.
(Photo Credit: Anna Min)