On Thursday January 23rd my partner, Verna Wong, and I signed a lease on a storefront located at 2205 Lowry Avenue N. Minneapolis to be used for our bookstore, Ancestry Books. We had for several years been dreaming of opening up a space that would engage the literary arts with a particular focus on indigenous authors and authors of color.
TCDP NOTE: Chaun will be teaching a class for us in April – watch for it! And you can contribute to Ancestry Books on Kickstarter.
Based on many of our interactions over the past few months the prospect and direction of Ancestry Books has come both as a shock and a breath of fresh air. It is shocking in light of how difficult it is to keep any independent bookstore open in our present environment of Amazon, of e-books, of the behemoths of Barnes and Noble and Half Price Books. And if those “challenges” weren’t enough, we are deciding to have the selection in our bookstore center on authors of color and indigenous authors, which to some seems like a sure fire way to only stay open for a year!
On the flipside there has been an immense energy surrounding what Ancestry Books will mean to the community of North Minneapolis, and the Twin Cities more broadly. Currently the community of North Minneapolis doesn’t have a single bookstore, NOT ONE! Ancestry Books will not only be filling in a much needed gap, it will be providing access to literature that is vastly underrepresented in our libraries, bookstores, and public school curriculum.
The stories of indigenous communities and communities of color are far too often ghettoized in spaces dedicated to literature, if not omitted altogether. One of the more common things community members have communicated to us over these last few months of preparation is that they are thrilled that there will be a space near their homes where they can see themselves in the literature that will be available. Ancestry Books more than anything was born out of the belief that our stories are one of our greatest natural resources, and that Black and Brown communities need not continue to consume the same “master narrative” that conspiratorially omits us from the record.
We had had enough of the language of deficiency imposed on communities like ours in North Minneapolis where it is always the “at-risk”, the “un” and “under” descriptors, that fail to see our power, our love, our light.
We are not alone, Ancestry Books is a part of a larger story of space and arts based community development that is building off of the tradition of African Memorial Bookstore, Uhuru Books, La Casa Azul Bookstore, and Juxtaposition Arts.
On January 27th we began a 40 day Kickstarter Campaign to raise money to start Ancestry Books on a strong footing. In 13 days, with the support of our community, we surpassed our goal of 10,000 dollars and have gotten great coverage from industry staples like Shelf Awareness to Publisher’s Weekly. On Friday March 7th we will be holding a Community Kickoff Event at the storefront from 3-9 p.m. to share the vision of Ancestry Books as well as celebrate all that has happened these 40 days as a testament to community power. June Jordan was known to say that she “always had to invent the power her freedom required,” we hope that Ancestry Books builds on that sentiment, knowing that the arts, that the radical imagination can invent the kind of power that freedom requires.