Online sales and the social justice movement are expanding the reach of Black-owned bookstores. Here’s a sampling of the vibrant and creative Black-owned book shops in the Midwest.

By Alicia Underlee Nelson
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“Bookstores are a community-based operation,” says Janet Webster Jones, founder and co-owner of Source Booksellers in Detroit. “We’re embedded in the community and we serve the community.”

2020 made those communities a whole lot bigger—especially for black-owned bookstores. First, social distancing prompted a massive shift to online sales. Then social justice movements sparked a national discussion about race and sent Black authors and anti-racism books soaring to the top of best seller lists.

Black-owned bookstores are facilitating the conversation, supplying books to the nation and serving and expanding their communities online. Here’s how to connect with some of the most dynamic black-owned bookstores and literary pop-up shops across the Midwest.

EyeSeeMe African American Children’s Bookstore, University City, Missouri Representation in literature matters, so this joyous bookshop stocks the largest selection of African-American children’s literature in the United States. Shop online, drop in for a Facebook Live story time session or build a home library two titles at a time through the store’s monthly subscription service.

Beyond Barcodes Bookstore, Kokomo, Indiana DeAndra Beard’s recent appearance on Morning Express with Robin Meade is just an extension of the community-building conversations that the owner of this multicultural bookstore (which shares a roof with a language school and international restaurant) has been having for years. The online shop features books, coffee and tea from around the world.

Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery, Chicago This bookstore and gallery space made news when it debuted last summer as Chicago’s only bookstore owned by a Black woman. DL Mullen’s vision made art and literature accessible by welcoming visual artists of color to two-month residencies, featuring self-published authors and helping fledgling writers print their own works in-house. But the shop on North Halsted stayed in the news because of its commitment to literacy and community. Its #ClearTheShelves events feature free books for students and major donations to empowering non-profit organizations.

Detroit Book City, Southfield, Michigan Owners Janeice and Reginald Haynes stock new and used titles, emphasize rare and out of print African-American books and showcase writers in their Black Indie Author Directory. Author events, bookfairs and family expos have moved online along with the books, which ship to the lower 48 for a flat $2.99. 

Bliss Books & Wine, Kansas City, Missouri Introverts rejoice; pop-up social events featuring wine and quiet reading (a timeless pairing) will resume when social distancing ends. In the meantime, owners La'Nae Robinson and La'Nesha Frazier offer a broad range of new and used titles, audiobooks (including a monthly subscription program) and free writing workshops online.

Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center, Ypsilanti, Michigan The brick and mortar shop that’s attracted so many artists and writers is temporarily closed, but its collection of books and movies is available online and through phone, email and Facebook orders. Shop the Black Stone Top 100, work through the Racism in America reading list or check out staff recommendations.

Willa’s Books and Vinyl, Kansas City, Missouri Owner Willa Robinson started as a street vendor on 18th and Vine back in 1994, then expanded to a shop that bursts with books, vintage magazines and classic vinyl. She stocks popular titles, albums and collectibles, but specializes in rare and first edition African-American books and vintage jazz, blues and soul records.

We Are LIT, Grand Rapids, Michigan This pop-up multicultural bookstore ships a carefully curated (and rapidly expanding) selection of titles nationwide. Owner Kendra McNeil facilitates virtual meet-ups for female book lovers and promotes diverse voices in literature as a co-founder of Women Who Read Grand Rapids and an ambassador for Well-Read Black Girl.

Brain Lair Books, South Bend, Indiana Every reader—including individuals with disabilities, people of color and members of the LGBTQIA communities—can see themselves in the titles that owner Kathy M. Burnette hand picks for her inclusive bookshop. Order books, audiobooks, eBooks and monthly, bimonthly and quarterly subscription boxes for ages 8-adult online.

AfriWare Books, Maywood, Illinois This African-centered bookstore, specialty shop and cultural center has hosted author visits, art events and community celebrations since 1993. With gatherings on hold for now, owner Nzingha Nommo offers books and pandemic necessities like African-print protective masks and matching headwraps online and curbside service for in-stock items.

Source Booksellers, Detroit Janet Webster Jones and Alyson Jones Turner are the mother/daughter ownership team that’s ushering this non-fiction bookstore into its third decade. They specialize in books about history, culture, health, wellness, and titles by and about women which are available in the shop, online or by phone or email order.