Arts & CultureBooks

The Free Black Women’s Library Is Transforming Black Literary Spaces

With her mobile library, OlaRonke Akinmowo is on a mission to bring literature by Black women to communities.

Photo credit: blackmilkwoman.com

OlaRonke Akinmowo is fulfilling her purpose, and enriching others’ lives in the process. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Akinmowo’s company The Free Black Women’s Library is an innovative mobile library which currently includes over 1,000 books by Black women authors.

The dream began four years ago for Akinmowo, on the stoop of a brownstone in Brooklyn’s Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood. There, she filled the porch with an assortment of books, and made humble trades with enthusiastic members within the community–her first customer being a bright-eyed eight year old girl. Today, she holds monthly pop-ups all throughout the city, located in museums, art galleries, churches, theaters, festivals, and more.

Nicknamed “the Library” for short, it is more than just an exchanging of books–it’s all about community and connection. “Connecting with people over books is something that always felt really good. I wanted to do a Black feminist community-based project, and I said: Maybe, I’ll try using books as a vehicle to build community,” Akinmowo told OprahMag.com.

Within these spaces, there are book clubs hosted, educational workshops, and talks from Black women authors. “Its existence has allowed Akinmowo to carve a new, entirely free space for people to not only consume Black women’s literature, but engage in Black feminist discourse in a one-of-a-kind setting that—as Akinmowo boasts—honors ‘hundreds of years of Black women’s literary genius,’” writes Char Adams at Oprah Mag.

Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and bell hooks are just a few of the authors you may find while exploring the Library’s collection. There’s also a wide selection of newer publications, including the works of Nnedi Okorafor and Brittney Cooper. “It’s the best thing ever, because it makes people feel seen and appreciated,” Javier Banks, a regular visitor of the Library, told OprahMag.com. “It’s so accessible, and even if you don’t have a book, you can still read and meet new people. It’s making sure that Black women’s literature has the place that it deserves in our history and our minds.”

Two years ago, the Library was installed at Brooklyn’s popular AFROPUNK festival, and has since traveled to states including Michigan, Maryland, Philadelphia, and North Carolina. As this radical mobile library grows, Akinmowo’s vision does as well.

“I keep daydreaming about a tiny house, and it’s a library of all the books. It can be hitched to a car or a truck and I’ll drive it around that way. People can step into it, walk around it and sit inside it, take a nap in it, have a nice little conversation. That’s the dream,” she says. And what an attainable, necessary dream it is.

To read the full editorial about The Free Black Women’s Library, please visit OprahMag.com. Learn more about Akinmowo’s mission and the books that continue to be collected by visiting her website.

Ayanna Winters

Hi! I’m Ayanna Winters, a 26-year-old writer and artist. Although I graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte with two degrees in art and psychology, I’ve had a passion for writing for as long as I can remember. By following my dreams and utilizing my creativity, I designed Jaro Magazine with the ultimate intention of bringing more positive stories in the black community to the forefront, while also highlighting our versatile and vibrant culture through Jaro’s four modes: film, books, art, and music. I’m into spirituality, nature walks, music festivals, poetry, traveling without a destination in mind, painting, and discussing everything out of the ordinary with other curious minds. Also, I'm an INFP!

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