Category Archives: reading

The Top Cities for Readers of African American Literature

top cities for readers of african american literatureAALBC.com assessed the relative strengths of almost 300 American cities, to determine which ones are best able to provide environments that are supportive of, and conducive to, the enjoyment of African American Literature.

Our 2014 list improves on our original list, first published in 2013, by considering more factors for each city.   Some of the factors we considered and evaluated included the:

  • number of library visits per capita;
  • number of African American book clubs;
  • number of African American book stores;
  • city having a minimum population of 100,000;
  • percentage of African Americans relative to city’s overall population;
  • number of book events for African American readers;
  • number of African American owned newspapers;
  • number of websites dedicated African American books (city of the web site’s founder);
  • quality (length of visit, number of pages viewed, duration of stay) to the AALBC.com website, over the past 365 days; and
  • more.

We also took points away from cities with strong negative indicators for African American literacy as reflected on reports like, The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males 2010.

Finally, rather than ranking these cities, as we did last year, we decided to group the cities into tiers and sort the cities alphabetically within each tier.  This article is intended to inform readers which cities are supportive of African American literature by providing the best resources for both readers and authors, and to acknowledge each city’s contribution to that effort.

Top Tier Cities

These cities ranked high on almost all of the factors considered.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York


Atlanta, GA
Los Angeles, CA
New York, NY
Philadelphia, PA
Washington, DC

Atlanta, GA is one of the top destinations for readers of African American literature. Atlanta hosts the National Book Club Conference (NBCC), the premier event for book clubs from across the nation.  Hosting the NBCC makes sense since Atlanta is one of the cities with the most Black book clubs in the U.S. Atlanta is also home to Written Magazine who hosts the popular Wine & Words® events. The city is also one of the top cities for independent Black owned bookstores in the nation;  including the cultural institution, Shrine of the Black Madonna; Medu Bookstore; and Sisters Bookshop.

Group Photograph from the 2009 NBCC Gala

Group Photograph from the 2009 National Book Club Conference Gala, held in Atlanta, GA

Los Angeles, CA is home to one of the oldest and perhaps finest remaining Black owned bookstore in America, Eso Won Books.  The city hosts a number of popular events including, the 8 year old, Leimert Park Village Book Fair.   Los Angeles is another top city for socializing with other readers, as it is in the top five cities with the highest number of book clubs focused on African American literature.

While New York, NY is arguably the publishing capital of the world and home to the National Book Awards, “The City,” however, did not earn any points for those reasons. New York is home to The National Black Writer’s Conference, The Harlem Book Fair, The African American Literary Awards Show and many other events dedicated to African American literature.   The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture hosts a variety of programs and is one of the finest Black cultural institutions in the world.  New York City is also home to Mosaic Literary Magazine and Writers’ World Newspaper, two publications dedicated Black literature.

Philadelphia, PA is one of the cities with the most number of Black owned book stores including Black and Nobel, Hakim’s Bookstore and Gift Shop, and Horizon Books Inc.  The city’s Black owned newspaper, the Philadelphia Tribune, was founded over 130 years ago. Philly also hosts to the 23 year old African American Children’s Book Fair, the largest event of its kind in the country.

Washington, D.C. is one of the nation’s great cities for readers of all types of literature, and despite the loss of a several important booksellers in recent years they continue to be one of the nation’s top cities for readers of African American literature.  D.C. is home to the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation and the ubiquitous booksellers Mahogany Books.  They have three newspapers, the Afro-American, District Chronicles, and the Washington Informer.

Second Tier Cities

Black Classic PressBaltimore, MD
Chicago, IL
Houston, TX
Columbus, OH
New Orleans, LA

Baltimore, MD, covered by the Baltimore Times, hosts several annual Black book events including, the Baltimore African American Book Festival. Baltimore also the home of the publisher Black Classic Press who has been publishing books for over 35 years.  The bookstore, Everyone’s Place, also calls Baltimore home.

Chicago, IL is a city with a great literary tradition. They are the home to the venerated, Third World Press, who has been publishing books for almost 50 years.   They are the top city for independent newspapers, leading the way with the iconic, 114-year-old, Chicago Defender.   Chicago is also one of the top cities for independent bookstores which include Frontline Bookstore and The Underground Bookstore.  The city also hosts the popular, The Cavalcade of Authors, an event which just celebrated its 10 year.

Houston, TX is home to one of the oldest websites, dedicated to Black books, Cushcity.com,  Cushcity also ran a physical store for a number of years but is now best known the National Black Book Festival, which has hosted most of the top African American authors.  Houston is also another top city for Book clubs and brought the most number of new visitors to AALBC.com in 2014.

Columbus, OH readers take advantage of their library visiting the Columbus Metropolitan Library, at an average rate of almost nine visits per year, the 5th highest in the country.  Columbus is home to the Ujamaa Book Store.  Readers from Columbus are also active online; they are #9 on AALBC.com’s list of top visitors based upon, page views, time spent on the site, and number of visitors.

New Orleans, LA, is home to three newspapers, Data News Weekly, Louisiana Weekly, and the New Orleans Tribune.  They are also known for several book events including; The Bayou Soul Writers and Reader’s Conference; and Homefest, hosted by the Community Book Center.  New Orleans was also one of the few cities listed here not penalized for making the list of the worse performing cities for literacy.

Third Tier

St. Louis American

St. Louis American, the Best Black Newspaper in the Nation


Cleveland, OH
Detroit, MI
Memphis, TN
Newark, NJ
Richmond, VA
Seattle, WA
St. Louis, MO

Cleveland, OH has one of the highest library visits per capita of any city in the country.  They are the home to A Cultural Exchange bookstore.

Detroit, MI, boasts a Black citizenry of more than 82% of the total population and is the home to three newspapers, Michigan Chronicle, Michigan Citizen, and the Telegram Newspaper.  They are the home to Source Booksellers and The Essence of Motown Writers Alliance & Motown Writers Network.

Memphis, TN, hosts the Black Writers And Book Clubs Literacy Festival is one of the top 10 cities visiting AALBC.com over the past year.  The city is home to the Tri-State Defender newspaper and is also a top city for book clubs.

Newark, NJ’s newly elected Mayor, Ras Baraka, the son of former NJ State Poet laureate Amiri Baraka, holds a great deal of promise for a city with an established literary legacy.

Richmond, VA is the home to Richmond Free Press, and The Richmond Voice newspapers.  Richmond, with a Black population greater than 50%, is on Amazon’s list of the “Most Well-Read Cities in America.”

Seattle, WA attracted Go On Girl! Book Club’s, 30 national chapters, for their 23rd Annual Awards Weekend.  The city of avid readers visits the Seattle Public Library at one of the highest rates, per capita, than any city in the country.  Seattle is also #4 on Amazon’s list of most well-read cities.

St. Louis, MO is home to The St. Louis American who won the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Russwurm/Senstacke Trophy for general excellence, making it the “Best Black Newspaper” in the nation.

Worthy of Note

aa-citiesAnn Arbor, MI;
Baton Rouge, LA;
Birmingham, AL;
Dallas, TX;
Fort Worth, TX;
Indianapolis, IN;
Milwaukee, WI;
Oakland, CA;
Tallahassee, FL; and
Raleigh, NC.

Each of these cities rank well on three or more dimensions and show strong potential for breaking into one of the top tiers.

We appreciate people still prefer to see rankings, so we published the ranking of the top 50 American U.S. cities on our discussion forum.

You may freely share this information provided you credit the source, Troy Johnson, AALBC.om and include the following URL, http://aalbc.it/cities4blackreaders to link back to this page.

We welcome critiques in the comments section below.

Sources

American Library Association (Public Library Information)
Cush City (Book club information)
Huria Search (Newspaper, Magazine, Bookstore, Book Web Site, Information)
United States Census Bureau (Population Demographics)

Only 54 Black Owned Bookstores Remain in America

This is a follow up to an article, “Death of the Black Owned, Independent, Bookstore,” which was originally published here on March 25, 2012.   The article highlighted the fact the we had lost 66% of our Black owned bookstores, in the United States, over the previous decade. That was and remains an astonishing statistic.

Two years later almost half of the stores still open in 2012 have closed.  You read that correctly, ALMOST HALF!  At the end of this article I’ve included a list of all the Black owned stores that remain open.  Here is a list of the stores that we have lost since 2002.

Harlem, NY's Hue-man Bookstore closed July 2012

Harlem, NY’s Hue-man Bookstore closed July 2012

Our bookstores have closed for every reason under the sun.  Many were started by people with a passion for literature but weak business skills and other have fallen prey to escalating rents and a dismal economy.

Perhaps a more pernicious reason, contributing to the closure of bookstores, is simply less demand for the product.   There is mounting evidence that we, all Americans, are simply reading less.

The National Endowment for the Arts issued a report in 2004, Reading at Risk,
in which they warned us that, “…literary reading in America is not only declining among all groups, but the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young.”

It is not just bookstores that are suffering.  Websites that focus on Black books are suffering.  Attendance at book fairs, conferences and festivals are down as well. Some events have even been cancelled due to low registration.

Eso Eon Books

Eso Won Books has been serving the Los Angeles community for almost 25 years.

While literary reading is declining in America, our own platforms are doing very little to indicate that books or the stories and information they contain are worthy of attention, or are important.  Coverage of Black books in magazines and newspaper—even those intended for Black readers is miniscule and critical book reviews are virtually nonexistent.

Now books are clearly not the only way to relate stories or transfer information, but nothing available now, or on the horizon, appears capable of replacing what was lost.

The following is a complete list of the remaining Black owned independent bookstores in the United States.  Please visit Huria.org for more information about these bookstores and many others that serve communities of color.

If you believe in the importance of bookstores, which are dedicated to books by or about people of African descent, go out of your way to support one of the stores below.

Do we want to see an America where the ONLY place Black books can be purchased is from Amazon?  Do we really want Amazon to have that responsibility—all by themselves?

If visiting an supporting a Black owned bookstore is physically impracticable here are a list of websites you can support, including this one, AALBC.com: http://huria.org/booksites

La Unique African American Books & Cultural Center, Camden, NJ Opened in 1992

La Unique African American Books & Cultural Ctr, Camden, NJ – Opened in 1992

The Last Black Owned Bookstores Open in the U.S.

Pyramid Art Books & Custom Framing – Little Rock, AR
That Bookstore In Blytheville – Blytheville, AR

Smiley’s Bookstore – Carson, CA
Zahra’s Books and Things – Inglewood, CA
Shades of Afrika Bookstore – Long Beach, CA
Eso Won Bookstore – Los Angeles, CA
Marcus Books – Oakland, CA
Underground Books – Sacramento, CA
Marcus Books – San Francisco, CA (read what happened)

DC Bookdiva’s Mobile Bookstore – Washington, DC
Sankofa Video and Bookstore – Washington, DC
The Children Of The Sun – Washington, DC

MeJah Books & Crafts, Tri-State Mall – Claymont, DE

Pyramid Books – Boynton Beach, FL
Dare Books – Longwood, FL

Medu Bookstore, Greenbriar Mall – Atlanta, GA
The Shrine of the Black Madonna – Atlanta, GA
Euphoria Books and Wellness House, Columbus, GA
NuBian Books – Morrow, GA

Lushena Bookstore – Bensenville, IL
Books Ink – Chicago, IL
Da Book Joint – Chicago, IL
Frontline Bookstore – Chicago, IL
The Underground Bookstore – Chicago, IL
Black Expression Book Source – Evergreen Park, IL
Azizi Books – Matteson, IL  (read what happened)

Afri-Ware Inc. – Maywood, IL

The Wild Fig Books – Lexington, KY

Community Book Center – New Orleans, LA

Frugal Bookstore – Roxbury, MA
Olive Tree Books-n-Voices – Springfield, MA

Everyone’s Place – Baltimore, MD
Cartel Cafe & Books Store – Oxon Hill, MD

Black Star Community Book Store –  Detroit, MI
Shrine of the Black Madonna, Book Store and Cultural Center – Detroit, MI
Source Booksellers – Detroit, MI
Off the Beaten Path Books & Cafe – Farmington, MI
Nandi’s Knowledge Cafe – Highland Park, MI
The Truth Bookstore – Southfield, MI
Hood Book Headquarters – Warren, MI
Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center – Ypsilanti, MI

Progressive Emporium & Education Center – St. Louis, MO

Aframerican Book Store – Omaha, NE

La Unique African American Books & Cultural Center, Camden, NJ
African American Book Store – Hackensack, NJ

Zawadi Books – Buffalo, NY
Becoming Gods Answer Bookstore – New York, NY
Sister’s Uptown Bookstore – New York, NY
Mood Makers Books & Art Gallery Village Gate Square – Rochester, NY
Official Connection Bookstore – Brooklyn NY

A Cultural Exchange – Cleveland, OH
Black Art Plus – Columbus, OH
Ujamaa Book Store – Columbus, OH

Black and Nobel – Philadelphia, PA
Hakim’s Bookstore and Gift Shop – Philadelphia, PA
Horizon Books Inc. – Philadelphia, PA
Prosperity Bookstore Inc – Philadelphia, PA

The Booksmith – Seneca, SC
The Malcolm X Center for Self-Determination – Greenville, SC

Alkebu-Lan Images Bookstore & Gift Shop – Nashville, TN

The Pan-African Connection Bookstore – Dallas, TX
The Dock Bookshop – Fort Worth, TX
African Imports Houston – Houston, TX

Positive Vibes – Virginia Beach, VA
House of Consciousness – Norfolk, VA

The Reader’s Choice – Milwaukee, WI

Hakim’s Bookstore - Currently in jeopardy of closing (photo circa 1970s by Yvonne Blake)
Hakim’s Bookstore – Currently in jeopardy of closing (photo circa 1970s by Yvonne Blake)

As of August 13, 2015 the number of stores listed above is 61. I have added or removed stores from this list since the article was originally published.

Please keep in mind that maintaining this list is resource intensive and is done on a volunteer basis.  Check our bookstore database: http://huria.org/bookstores/ for additional information about each store.  If you find any inaccurate or missing information here please email me troy@aalbc.com.  Also check out our new bookstore map introduced in August of 2014.

Mixed Race or Just Mixed Up? Children’s Books Provide Answers

I noticed a surge in the number of books I sold, over the last two months (see best-selling books list), that dealt with issues of mixed race people.   Forty percent of the fiction, best-selling, titles addressed this complicated and often sensitive issue.  The bulk of these titles were targeted to children.

interacial-african-americansThe concept of “race” has no basis in science and is arbitrarily applied.   Unfortunately, because of America’s twisted concept of race, many so called “mixed-raced” children suffer from problems of self-esteem due to confusion over identity and belonging.

In the United States, a significant portion the population is mixed.   Which race you belong to has nothing to do with your genetics.   Even more absurdly, the “one drop” rule which asserts that you are black if you have a black person in your ancestry.  As a result, Tiger Woods who is 1/4 African-American, 1/4 Thai, 1/4 Chinese, 1/8 Native American and 1/8 Dutch is simply Black.

According to a 2009 study, by Genome Biology, the average African-American has 21.9% European ancestry.   Approximately 10 percent of the people in the U.S., who self-identify as African-American, have at least 50 percent European ancestry.  Can you imagine the public’s reaction if our President, Barack Obama, decided to embrace the race of his mother and self-identify as white?

Interracial marriage only became fully legal in all the States of the U.S. in 1967!  However, a 2012 report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 10% of all marriages, by opposite sex partners, in 2010, involved people of different races.  This represented an increase of 28% from 2000.

As the number of mixed race people increases in the U.S., due to the increase in mixed race marriages, the need for books on the subject, particularly for children, will become increasingly important.   These books are not just for mixed race children, all children will benefit from them.

I Am Mixed I Am Mixed
by Garcelle Beauvais (Author) , Sebastian A. Jones (Author) , Joshua Cozine (Editor) , James C. Webster (Illustrator)

Series: I Am Book (Book 1)
Hardcover: 52 pages
Publisher: Stranger Comics; 1st edition (August 7, 2013)

Jay and Nia are the children of two worlds, and as they will discover, they can enjoy the best of both. From Mommy’s jazz beats to Daddy’s classical piano, we will dance with the twins through a book that explores what it is to be of mixed ancestry, proving that a child is more than the sum of their parents.

black is brown is tanblack is brown is tan
by Arnold Adoff (Author) , Emily Arnold McCully (Illustrator)

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Grade Level: Preschool – 3
Paperback: 40 pages
Publisher: Amistad (January 6, 2004)

Brown-skinned momma, the color of chocolate milk and coffee pumpkin pie, whose face gets ginger red when she puffs and yells the children into bed. White-skinned daddy, not white like milk or snow, lighter than brown, With pinks and tiny tans, whose face gets tomato red when he puffs and yells their children into bed. Children who are all the colors of the race, growing up happy in a house full of love. This is the way it is for them; this is the way they are, but the joy they feel extends to every reader of this book.

Black is brown is tan is a story poem about being, a beautiful true song about a family delighting in each other and in the good things of the earth.

black-white-just-rightBlack, White, Just Right!
by Marguerite W. Davol (Author) , Irene Trivas (Illustrator)

Age Range: 6 – 9 years
Grade Level: 1 – 4
Library Binding: 32 pages
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company (January 1, 1993)

Celebrating the differences between a mother and father that blend to make the perfect combination in their daughter. An African American mother and a white father are only one reason why this family is “just right.”

Mixed Blessing: A Children's Book About a Multi-Racial FamilyMixed Blessing: A Children’s Book About a Multi-Racial Family
by Marsha Cosman (Author) , Kyra Kendall (Illustrator)

Paperback: 26 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 6, 2012)

A young son discovers he does not have exactly the same skin color as either parent. He questions this revelation and his parents explain using animals during a visit to the zoo. A candid look at children of mixed race and multiculturalism learning about their identity for the first time through a colorful illustrative story. The author uses her own experience to write this book about children questioning their appearance and acceptance in society. A fun learning book for any age which will aid in the prevention of bullying and the acceptance of differences.

Mixed Like MeMixed Like Me
by Gina Golliday-Cabell (Author)

Paperback: 26 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (October 10, 2012)

Mixed Like Me is a delightful children’s book addressing a most important building block in a child’s development: the element of positive self-esteem and pride. With the prevalence of blended racial and cultural differences in our society, children of various ethnic backgrounds often question the differences in appearances among themselves, their friends, and other family members. This charming children’s book reinforces an interracial child’s self-image, identity, and value, regardless of what they have heard or been led to believe, and will help to develop unity in their family, community, and the world, one child at a time.

Mixed Me: A Tale of a Girl Who is Both Black and White Mixed Me: A tale of a girl who is both black and white
by Tiffany Catledge (Author) , Anissa Riviére (Illustrator)

Paperback: 34 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 11, 2013)

Little Mixie wonders why everyone wants to know WHAT she is. Isn’t it obvious? She is clearly a human being. And anyway, isn’t WHO she is what matters most? Coming from a family with a black dad and a white mom makes her extra special, and maybe a little different too. But different is good. Mixie embraces her uniqueness and determines to be the best “Me” she can be.

Meet China Robinson

Chanel Iman & China RobinsonOn the subject of mixed race, meet China Robinson.  She is the parent and former manager of super-model Chanel Iman.  Ms. Robinson, is half Korean and half African-American.   She never she learned who her parents were.  She was born during the Korean War, orphaned and labeled a “War Baby.”  She was adopted and raised in Los Angeles by an African-American couple.  She was teased throughout her childhood, called “ching-chong-china the girl with no eyes,” only to learn, at the age of 13, that she was indeed half Korean.

In her memoir From Seoul To Soul a Robinson describes her struggle with an identity crisis because of her Asian features. She overcomes and embraces her lost past, when her supermodel daughter takes her back to her roots in an unexpected yet victorious style.

In the video below, China Robinson describes here story.

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