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Semicolon Bookstore, Chicago
Photograph: Courtesy Semicolon Bookstore

9 Black-owned bookstores in the USA tell us their favorite books by Black authors

We could all do more reading in 2021. Start with one of these recs from a Black-owned bookstore in the USA.

By Joshua Robinson
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Frederick Douglass is often quoted as saying, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” That statement, whether actually spoken by the famed abolitionist or not, is central to the mission of some of our favorite Black-owned bookstores in the USA. After the widely documented police brutality and racial injustices of 2020, it’s clear that many of us still have much more to learn. Which is why, during Black History Month (and really all year long), we're celebrating by striving for broadened perspectives, deeper understandings, and more robust conceptualizations of the world around us, by picking up more books by Black authors. Luckily, these nine phenomenal Black-owned bookstores in the USA give us their recomendations, to help readers find the perfect ones to start with. 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Black History Month in the USA 

Recs from Black-owned bookstores

Reparations Club LA
Reparations Club LA
Photograph: Courtesy Reparations Club

1. Los Angeles, CA: Reparations Club

Founded in 2019 by Jazzi McGilbert, Reparations Club is a concept book boutique that also serves as a space for creatives in Los Angeles. In addition to its eclectic collection of books written by Black authors, Reparations Club sells home goods, accessories, and apparel from Black-owned businesses around the world.

Reparations Club’s Recommendations:

📖Adrienne Maree Brown, We Will Not Cancel Us

📖Danez Smith, Homie: Poems

📖James Baldwin & Yoran Cazac, Little Man, Little Man

Shop at MATTER, Denver
Shop at MATTER, Denver
Photograph: Courtesy Shop at MATTER

2. Denver, CO: Shop at MATTER

Shop at MATTER, which is led by Rick Griffith and Debra Johnson, is dedicated to revolution, design, and articulating history as told by Black and BIPOC authors. Matter’s catalogue primarily consists of academic and nonfictional books, but the shop also sells unique prints that are designed and printed in-house.

MATTER’s Recommendations:

📖Kimberly Drew & Jenna Wortham, Black Futures

📖W. E. B. Du Bois, Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America

📖Marc James Léger, Zapantera Negra

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Semicolon Bookstore, Chicago
Semicolon Bookstore, Chicago
Photograph: Courtesy Semicolon Bookstore

3. Chicago, IL: Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery

Semicolon is Chicago's only Black woman-owned bookstore and gallery, and it’s committed to raising the literacy rate in Chicago and beyond. Owner Danielle Mullen and her booksellers recently created National Black Literacy Day, an effort to support literacy programs in Black communities that aptly coincides with Frederick Douglass birthday on February 14.

Semicolon’s Recommendations:

📖Zora Neale Hurston, Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick

📖Robert Jones, Jr., The Prophets

📖Bell Hooks, All About Love: New Visions

 Cafe con Libros
 Cafe con Libros
Photograph: Courtesy Cafe con Libros

4. New York City, NY: Cafe con Libros

Cafe con Libros is an Afro-Latina—owned feminist bookstore and coffeshop that wholly embraces intersectionality. Kalima DeSuze opened the shop in 2017 with aspirations of establishing a vibrant community for womxn and girls of all identities, and today it offers an impressive stock of feminist literature, great coffee, and a monthly subscription for patrons called Feminist & Bookish. 

Cafe con Libros’ Recommendations:

📖Zakiya Dalila Harris, The Other Black Girl

📖Nadia Owusu, Aftershocks

📖Naima Coster, What’s Mine and Yours

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Harriet's Bookshop, Philadelphia
Harriet's Bookshop, Philadelphia
Photograph: Tasha Goldberg, Courtesy Harriet's

5. Philadelphia, PA: Harriett’s Bookshop

Named after Harriett Tubman (obvs), Harriett’s Bookshop celebrated Black heroines like Toni Morrison, Ida B. Wells, and the aforementioned abolitionist. So it kind of goes without saying that Jeannine A. Cook’s bookstore specializes in literature written by Black women that celebrates Black women, from the artists to the activists.

Harriett’s Recommendations:

📖Kate Clifford Larson, Bound for the Promised Land

📖Toni Morrison, Beloved

📖Michelle Duster, Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells

MahoganyBooks in Washington DC
MahoganyBooks in Washington DC
Photograph: Courtesy MahoganyBooks

6. Washington, DC: MahoganyBooks

Black books matter and few bookstores believe that as much as family-owned MahoganyBooks does. Founded by Ramunda and Derrick Young in 2007 as an online shop—a brick-and-mortare shop was opened in 2017—MahoganyBooks is all about supplying books that are written for, by, and about the people of the African Diaspora.

MahoganyBooks’ Recommendations:

📖Kahran & Regis Bethencourt, GLORY: Magical Visions of Black Beauty

📖Barack Obama, A Promised Land

📖Ilyasah Shabazz w/ Tiffany D Jackson, The Awakening of Malcolm X

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Source of Knowledge Bookstore
Source of Knowledge Bookstore
Photograph: Source of Knowledge

7. Newark, NJ: Source of Knowledge

Dexter George, Masani Barnwell George and Patrice McKinney, the owners behind one of the last two Black-owned bookstores in New Jersey, have created something much greater than an outlet for books. Source of Knowledge is a cultural community center that invites Black readers home to learn about their history and, in turn, their futures. 

Source of Knowledge’s recommendations:

📖Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning

📖Salamishah Tillet, In Search of the Color Purple

📖Brenda Woods, Zoe in Wonderland

8. Boynton Beach, FL: Pyramid Books

Roughly an hour north of Miami, Pyramid Books, a Black veteran-owned bookstore, has been standing proudly in Boynton Beach since 1993. In addition to a wide selection of books written by African-American writers, Pyramid’s speciality is having hard-to-find Black books, from Black Diasporic spirituality to metaphysics, available for shoppers.  

Pyramid’s Recommendations:

📖Virgil Abloh x Nike, ICONS

📖Frank B. Wilderson III, Afropessimism

📖Sister Souljah, The Coldest Winter Ever

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Sistah Scifi
Sistah Scifi
Photograph: Courtesy Isis Asare

9. Online: Sistah Scifi

Sistah Scifi is an online bookstore that owner Isis Asare describes as a “cauldron” of science fiction literature written by Black women." The shop’s also known for its “Octavia/Nnedi/Tomi/Nalo/NK” merchandise, which highlight Black female authors who, through their work, create a world in which everyone can feel included. 

Sistah Scifi’s Recommendations:

📖Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower

📖Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber

📖Nnedi Okorafor, Remote Control

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