New Black-Owned Central District Bookstore Celebrates Black Love

Kristina Clark has dreamed of opening Loving Room: diaspora books + salon since 2012.

This Labor Day, a decade later, Loving Room, one of Seattle’s few black-owned bookstores, opens at 1400 20th Avenue in the Central District, sharing a building with the Liink Project – the space of Stephanie Morales’ co-operative retail, art gallery and event venue showcasing Black artists and businesses.

“It had to be now or never,” said Clark, curator, creator and owner of Loving Room. “I think I got to the point where I had to deal with the fact that, you know, it’s one thing to nurture that dream and hold on to it, but without investing time, energy, effort and resources, that’s all it would be, that would be that dream and that hope.

In June 2021, Clark left her job as Family Programs Manager at Families of Color Seattle. She bought ideas and rental spaces in the central district. She has raised over $8,000 through a community-supported program GoFundMe, with the money earmarked for rent, installing bookshelves, and expanding Loving Room’s permanent collection of community books. She invested personal funds. She then signed a three-year lease that began last August.

“At the end of the day, this is a project about love, and it’s specifically about black love,” Clark said.

Growing up in the Central District, the single mother of two dreamed of a safe place where black children could be black children – where black children could fully belong.

She remembers when she was co-counsellor of the Black Student Union at Garfield High School. A student told her, “Ms. Clark, Garfield is a white school,” said Clark, also a Garfield graduate.

“And I was really shocked to hear those words spoken because I was like, ‘How? ‘” she said.

Her experience as a bilingual paraprofessional showed her the disparities of black youth. Black students were not counseled for the same career paths as their white peers, she said. Black students have been kicked out of libraries for “talking to each other, maybe being loud, but literally just being young young people and also young black people,” she said. And now, with the misconceptions surrounding critical race theory in American schools, the teaching of race and African-American history is under attack, she said.

“I always felt this strong desire to create a space that is really about celebrating black people in the fullness of who we are – where we can engage with literatures and our stories, but not be controlled for how we present ourselves. and how we do it,” Clark said.

Edwin Lindo, co-founder of Estelita Library – a social justice-focused bookstore a mile and a half away in the Central District, said there was a great need for Clark’s new community bookstore.

“We need to think beyond what a bookstore looks like today and what a bookstore looks like tomorrow?” Lindo said. “That’s what Loving Room is. This is what a bookstore could and should be.

More than a bookstore

Clark’s 800-square-foot brick-and-mortar storefront houses titles from Toni Morrison, Octavia E. Butler, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Colson Whitehead and Maya Angelou. It is home to NK Jemisin’s “Inheritance Trilogy” series and Kwane Alexander’s “Crossover” series. It houses picture books like “The 1916 Project Born on the Water” by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson and illustrated by Nikkolas Smith. It houses books on Yoruba idioms and African ceremonies. But not all of these books are for sale.

Loving Room — which opened its Reading Room to the community with a soft launch Aug. 21 — is a for-profit LLC that sells books by predominantly black writers. But beyond the bookstore, Loving Room exists as a community space: a reading room, a place that can be rented, and an art museum of African works mostly salvaged from Etsy and boutiques. from Bellingham to Olympia.

The Loving Room creator prefers the title “curator.”

Her collection includes a white chair resembling a Yoruba throne (she liked the idea of ​​black people sitting in the chair like kings), African sculpture busts, an African belt and textiles, and a wooden medicine cabinet. African (she wants Loving Room to be a place of healing). Clark, who describes herself as an emerging textile dye artist, eventually hopes to expand her collection to include more African textiles (“It’s about putting the ‘text’ into the textile,” Clark said).

She also wants to eventually expand her on-site community reading room into a lending library and host local writers, book clubs, film screenings and more.

“It’s always been a goal to be around reclaiming black culture in CD,” Clark said.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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