I am interrupting your doom-scroll to tell you about the existence of the Free Black Women’s Library, a trading library and “interactive biblio installation” that celebrates the voices of Black women in literature. What started in 2015 as a popup on a stoop in Bed-Stuy is now a full-fledged mobile collection that houses over 3,000 books by Black women.
OlaRonke Akinmowo is the brilliant mind behind this project. When asked what inspired her to start this ambitious venture, she told us:
I started the Free Black Women’s Library as a social art project to because I wanted to do something that smashed together the things I am passionate about: books, black womanhood, and community. I wanted to explore the idea of using books by black women to build community, create change, educate, heal, inspire spread joy. I wanted to do something that centered black women but in a way that didn’t feel tragic, traumatic or pathological, something that showed our brilliance, imagination, strength and diversity. I love books and I love libraries, they feel like one of the few safe places on earth (depending on who is running the space).
Over the past six years, she’s gotten donations from publishers, writers, and readers like you. While the mobile library is primarily based in Brooklyn (popping up once a month in unique and accessible community spaces), it’s also traveled to Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. By Akinmowo’s estimation, the library has touched the lives of over 10,000 readers since its inception—no library card needed.
During the Covid-19 crisis, the Free Black Women’s Library continues to be a valuable support system. Akinmowo started the Sister Outsider Relief Grant, a mutual aid grant for single Black mothers in the arts and activism fields. (To date, over $40,000 has been distributed to Black women in need all over the country.)
Now Akinmowo has even bigger plans for the Free Black Women’s Library. She’s initiated a 2021 reading challenge, in which she encourages us all to read 25 books by Black women or non-binary writers this year. She’s also trying raise money for a bookmobile and a reading room to host events and serve as a community space in Bed-Stuy. You can support her mission by donating your books or your time, buying their very cool sweatshirt on Bonfire, and giving to the Free Black Women’s Library GoFundMe.
[h/t Next City]