The Harvard-Westlake (HW) Book Bistro, with help from BLACC, is holding a book drive for the Free Black Women’s Library of L.A. with the goal of getting 300 books before spring break.
“We’ll be setting up donation boxes around campus until Spring break—just look for the signs with the library’s logo!” Elaine Levia, one of the school’s librarians, said. “If you’re reading this, it’s still not too late to donate a book written by a black woman!”
Levia suggests bringing in poetry works by Warsan Shire, Aziza Barnes, Alysia Harris, Mahogany L. Browne, Angel Nafis or Safia Elhillo. “Children of Blood and Bone” is another good example of what to bring in.
“I’m trying to get more kids books and more young adult books,” Asha Grant, director of the Free Black Women’s Library L.A., said in a phone interview. Grant wants to show the diverse selection of books black women write.
“Oftentimes, men, particularly white mens’ work is celebrated and is considered to be the top of what we consider to be quality, good literature,” Grant said. “And we know that their experiences are very particular to them, and not really always something… people of color, or women or queer people, are able to identify with.”
Grant thinks diversity in literature would have helped her as a child. For example, when she was in middle school, Grant struggled with wanting straight hair because she never saw black girls portrayed as a standard of beauty.
“It was difficult for me to try to maintain that sort of hairstyle and I wish I could tell myself that it’s okay to take a break from that a focus on the things that come naturally to you,” Grant said.
Some of her favorite books like “The Babysitter’s Club” and Judy Blume books didn’t feature many black characters.
“I never really read anyone who described someone with beautiful black skin,” Grant said. She wanted to see herself, “your regular black girl from Inglewood,” in literature.
The Munger Library has been working to provide diverse reading materials. Levia said their goal is to have the books in the library reflect the school community.
“Over the past few years, especially, we have worked to diversify our selection by paying attention to the narratives of people of color, LGBT+ people and the stories of historically oppressed people,” Levia said. “We’ve also done a little ‘Konmari’ action in the library, saying ‘Thank you, Goodbye!’ to works that hold views that are no longer socially acceptable.”
The Free Black Women’s Library was started in New York by Ola Ronke Akinmowo. Grant used to live in Harlem, New York, and came across a Free Black Women’s Library event.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God! This is so amazing!'” Grant said. “When I moved back to L.A., I wanted to have something like that here.”
There is an Amazon wishlist with other books to donate, found here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/ls/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_gm__wl?ie=UTF8&lid=ICFJPXFUGAAW&ref_=cm_sw_em_r_mt_gm__wl&ty=wishlist.