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Inside the LA Chapter of the Free Black Woman’s Library

By Danielle Dorsey

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The Free Black Women’s Library was founded by Ola Ronke Akinmowo in Brooklyn in 2015. It began as a project to elevate the voices of Black women in literature and to create safe spaces for communities of color. In it’s beginning stages, Akinmowo would latch her small but growing library to a bike trailer and bring it to community spaces where readers were encouraged to donate a book by a Black woman in order to borrow one. The library has since expanded to include more chapters in other cities, including an LA Chapter ran by Asha Grant.

Grant was living in New York when she stumbled upon one of Akinmowo’s pop-ups in Harlem. She immediately recognized that this was not a regular book fair and that Akinmowo had created a unique community where people could celebrate the literary contributions of Black women. Grant continued following the library’s events and eventually met Akinmowo, who gladly gave Grant her blessing to begin a LA chapter.

Grant and Akinmowo run their libraries with no outside funding. In the four years since the Free Black Women’s Library began, Akinmowo has collected more than 1,000 books authored by Black women. Grant had hopes of collecting 300 books by the end of June, but the library missed their goal by about 30 percent. Grant hopes to collect 500 books by the end of the year. 

Drop-off locations are carefully selected based on their support of marginalized communities and currently include the Women’s Center for Creative Work in Elysian Valley, Hot and Cool Café in Leimert Park, Bloom & Plume Coffee in Echo Park, The Underground Museum, and Go Get Em Tiger in Downtown LA. Supporters of the literary pop-up can contribute by purchasing books from its Amazon wish list, donating on GoFundMe, or subscribing to their Patreon

The library has a larger mission than simply promoting Black female authors and hopes to build communities that create inclusive and affirming places where people can engage in creative, critical, or radical thought. It validates the stories of Black women and affirms their narratives as worthy of being heard. Grant’s LA Chapter highlights contemporary women-identifying writers in LA through their “Writer Crush Wednesday” series on Instagram.

While the mobility of the library allows Grant to bring it to different neighborhoods in need, she hopes that it will one day have a permanent home in addition to the pop-up events. In an interview with the LA Times, Grant said, “It would be so amazing for the Free Black Women’s Library one day to have an actual home where it can rest… where other people can come and rest and enjoy the fruits of black womanhood all around.”

The next Free Black Women’s Library pop-up event is this Saturday, July 6th from 1-4pm at the Reparations Club in Mid-City. Click here to RSVP to this free event. 

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