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  • Writer's pictureNeil Armstrong

Bookstores as Archives of Black Culture

There are new books written or edited by emerging or established Black authors in Canada every year. Some are self-published and have genesis in the COVID-19 pandemic; others are independent and major publishers.

Over the last couple of years, independent Black-owned bookstores in the Greater Toronto Area have seen many books by local Black authors.

Miguel San Vicente, co-owner of A Different Booklist, is so impressed with the ownership he sees coming out of these new works that he expects more Black writers to be getting awards and making an impact on the literary scene.

'You cannot have that amount of writing going on without it producing excellence. That is a very positive thing that I see happening.'

To encourage it this year, the bookstore has a promotion on its website listing some local authors and “we’re encouraging people to buy local, and we are giving a 10% discount on these titles by local authors,” says San Vicente.

Alongside his wife, Itah Sadu, they have been the co-owner of A Different Booklist since 1999. The store was opened in 1995 by Wesley Crichlow, a professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology who specialises in Black LGBTQ criminology, critical equity, and diversity studies.

A Different Booklist showcases “the literature of the African and Caribbean diaspora, the Global South and all the major publishers and small presses.”

In Brampton, Sean Liburd, founder and co-owner of Knowledge Bookstore, says there are tonnes of books coming from Black Canadians from 80+year-olds to 8-year-olds.

“It’s been a little bit overwhelming at times because there are so many emails.”

Liburd says the only issue with some of them is that while it is easy to publish a book, people don’t think about the small things, such as using staples in the middle of their children’s book.

'They’re not thinking about the liability in children hurting themselves with those staples,' he says, noting the importance of editing too.

His advice to new authors is to do their due diligence first by speaking to people in the business and understanding it. Still, he noted that many writers are very personal about their work and do not want any advice.

'It makes it difficult because then you have to say no. There are great concepts, but when things are not done in a certain way, then you have to say no,' says Liburd, noting that there are only so many authors he can take.

'We would love to take everyone, but there is only so much shelf space.' Liburd is looking for books that fit into the store’s mandate and has a major focus on children.

On December 18, 1997, Knowledge Bookstore will celebrate its 24th anniversary this weekend. The bookstore started for him and his wife, Carolette, 'as a dream realised and continues to awaken the minds of our customers with our large assortment of children, history, religious, Caribbean, African and Black Studies titles.'

Since September last year, several writers have launched their books via Zoom, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, or in-person events. Their writings cover racism, identity, culture, body image, self-actualisation, Black masculinities, colonialism, and education. We will feature some of these books in future articles.

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