For 16 years, Angela Maria Spring has worked as a bookseller ― most recently as the manager of Washington, D.C.’s iconic Politics and Prose bookstore. Now she’s planning to open her own store, Duende District, which will be run by a deliberately diverse staff.
On April 10, Spring launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a pop-up Duende District bookstore to operate at the 2017 Artomatic festival. Spring, who is Latinx and the daughter of a Panamanian immigrant, felt inspired to open the intentionally multicultural bookstore after several years at Politics and Prose. Though D.C. is a highly diverse city, she found herself in a primarily white neighborhood, working with white booksellers and catering to a largely white clientele.
“For five years, almost every other Latino I saw was cleaning somebody’s house or yard, taking care of someone’s baby or cooking someone’s meal,” she wrote on Kickstarter.
By launching her own bookstore, Spring hoped to give opportunities to colleagues of color and to build a literary space that put multiculturalism and diversity front and center. Creating a browsing space that’s “owned, operated, and managed by a majority of people of color,” she says in her Kickstarter video, can create a “high-quality, welcome experience for everyone.”
A Publishers Weekly piece on the bookstore points to “the current political environment” as one motivation for Spring’s bold move. On the Kickstarter page, she describes the new venture as “part of my resistance effort.” But also, she told PW, the dazzling whiteness of the bookselling world was a long-time concern.
As with every facet of the publishing industry, bookselling isn’t as diverse as the community it ostensibly serves ― an issue writer Roxane Gay addressed in a keynote at the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute in January, in which she argued that publishing and bookselling gatekeepers “don’t really want to do what it takes, to invest money” to foster true diversity.
Even apparent commitments to improving representation, may only hide still-severe problems. A significant percentage of children’s books today are about characters of color ― over 20 percent. But the percentage of children’s books created by non-white authors is much lower, suggesting that while white authors have changed their approach toward race, significant barriers remain for writers of color.
Spring’s bookstore, and its Kickstarter campaign, encourage book lovers to get serious about diversity by supporting a business that doesn’t just welcome a diverse customer base, but gives power and voice to underserved communities.