New Philadelphia bookstore specializes in rare black literature

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Anyabwile Love had planned to wait until spring to open Bailey Street Books. But when a previous opportunity arose to launch his bookstore and community center in Brewerytown, he took it, with no regrets.

Love, a professor at Community College of Philadelphia and a Philadelphia native, has run the bookstore since last October. As an instructor in the history and black studies departments at CCP, he has a keen eye for vintage black literature.

Collective and collaborative study is the fundamental philosophy of his vision for Bailey Street.

The idea to start a bookstore came to him about two years ago, after he found some success on Instagram selling classic black books, toys and memorabilia. The search for a physical space was also a practical decision motivated by a change of residence.

“My wife and I recently moved, and we’ve moved to a smaller place, so I was like, ‘What am I going to do with all these books? ‘” Love said. Even after a few rounds of distributing books to friends and students, there was still a surplus, and he didn’t want to put them away.

Among the friends Love asked for ideas was Brewerytown Beats owner Maxwell Ochester, whom he knew from visits to the store and because their children went to school together. “He was like, ‘Hey, why aren’t you considering coming here?'”

Just like that, Love was in business. He set up shop in the front of the record store at 1517 N. Bailey St. He arranged a sofa, table and sectional chairs around a shelf containing titles for sale, and a second with works that customers and friends can read freely on the spot, whether for fun, research or discussion.

“I didn’t want them on my [sale] shelf,” Love said, “or someone could come in and pay $400 for a rare book of poetry from, say, Third World Press. Sure, he enjoyed his collection of rare literature, but when thinking about selling the tomes, he always came back to the same question: “What if we had it, so others could have access to it?”

The importance of community access comes in part from his familiarity with libraries, as public libraries were an important space for him and his siblings when they were ascending. Engaging in black literature and independent publishing from the Civil Rights and Black Power eras was also a stepping stone, as a child of the 1970s.

Growing up with these works, Love said, “You begin to learn about the history of black bookstores, independent black stores and the people behind them, and how they were spaces of organization and spaces of refuge. .”

Love Shivon

Currently, the plan is to stay inside Brewerytown Beats for “nine months to a year” and then expand to a small retail space in the neighborhood. Until then, Love is excited to continue developing Bailey Street programming.

This month, the store is hosting three events that he is looking forward to.

“I work with the Black Letter Writers Society,” Love said, “which is a great organization that encourages black people not to divest themselves of technology, but to circumvent it through the very tactile and organic process of writing letters.”

After launching on February 5, there will be another event on February 13, also known as Black Love Day, where attendees can write love letters “through time into space” to those who they cherish. On February 26, Shesheena A. Bray, a wellness practitioner, will lead a second letter-writing session focused on Black wellness and mindfulness.

Author interviews are also underway, including a visit from writer Richard Hamilton, who will discuss his poetry book “Rest of US,” which was published by Recenter Press, a Philadelphia-based publishing house. .

“One of the other things I’m really working on is developing our vintage black children’s books,” Love said, with a view to starting to read these books to and with children.

Along with programming, Love is enthusiastic about making Bailey Street a place where Philadelphians can meet and share new ideas, even if they’re in books from the era.

With rare pamphlets from Philadelphia poets in the community section and a comic book lending program already underway, Love is eager to share rare materials outside of the Ivory Tower:

“Not everyone has a college library card, where they can go to Penn or Temple and see these things. So some of these things we have right here.

History and black studies professor Anyabwile Love in his element
Love Shivon

Asked to suggest authors for people who want to read works by black writers this month and in the future, Love dove into the canon – naming Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Octavia Butler. He also recommended exploring the work of Pittsburgh playwright August Wilson.

He’s had these kinds of conversations before on Bailey Street.

“I really worked to introduce people to the African writers series,” he said. “So like Achebe’s works – and everyone knows Achebe, but also Armah, Soyinka and those other cats.”

The role black history plays in Love’s life and work is clear, but its importance is not born of nostalgia. History itself is the product of disciplinary boundaries and norms, he explained, which, while important and interesting, are not how we engage with the past on a human level. For that, we have memories.

“Some people say you can’t move on if you don’t know your history, but it’s that memory, isn’t it? And a lot of our memory exists in literature, in books, in ephemera and things like that,” Love said.

Whether it’s celebrating the daily movements of black communities through photo collections like Roy DeCarava’s ‘The Sweet Flypaper of Life’, reading a fictionalized retelling of history like John Edgar Wideman’s ‘Philadelphia Fire’ or looking at Emory Douglas’ artwork of Black Panther on the cover of an early Sonia Sanchez pamphlet, memories abound in the artwork Bailey Street has to offer.

For Love, the message is clear. “There is no future without memory.”

Bailey Street has pamphlets as well as books to peruse
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