Bookish Swag For, By, or With People of Color

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Is there anything better than subtly-loudly proclaiming your love of all things literary with a tote, tee, sticker, or wall decor? That was rhetorical. No, there isn’t. But when you’re a person of color, sometimes you get really tired of only finding those in shades of white. The rest of us read, too! This may not be an area of racial justice that is as urgent as in other spheres, but it still speaks to the overwhelming white-as-default setup of most Anglophone countries, and that means it’s problematic. We exist, and we deserve trivial things that are representative and affirming just like everybody else. In fact, maybe that means self-expression through shopping, fashion, and swag isn’t so trivial after all.

Just like reading diverse books, this isn’t exclusively the domain of nonwhite people. There is nothing stopping a white person from buying and proudly displaying art and other swag celebrating people of all backgrounds.

Ready to do some shopping? I’ve found some things to get you started. An asterisk next to an item means it comes from a seller that is, to the best of my knowledge, own voices, so to speak. Whenever possible, it’s great to support BIPOC creators, but at the very least, I love it when any store acknowledges that we don’t all look the same.

“Bookworm and Copycat” Art Print *

This gorgeous print by Etsy seller thepairabirds has Romare Bearden vibes. It will dress up any room you’re in, and it’s available in two sizes so you can decide what fits best in your space. Make your book nook even more cozy with a mother-daughter reading party hanging on the wall. Then go read with your mother, daughter, best friend, brother, cat, or anyone else you have in your vicinity.

Lotería Career Cards *

Approximately eleventy bajillion Rioters and Riot readers are librarians, and they might enjoy this bibliotecaria lotería card from Chingona, Inc. The rest of the set has a wonderfully diverse and affirming cast of women characters ready to be printed on mugs, stickers, notebooks, and more. The maestra and estudiante cards bear an uncanny resemblance to my teacher sister and grad student self, so now she and I proudly have those coffee mugs. If you’re not a librarian, you’ll find everything from housekeeper to nail technician to therapist to lawyer and beyond.

“Decolonize Your Bookshelf” Tee

Social justice is hard work, but so-called SJWs aren’t dreary and sad all the time. This shirt by Etsy seller ManyManyMoonsAgo is whimsical and hard-hitting, with an exhortation to all to decolonize (and, by extension, diversify) their bookshelves. Being a reader doesn’t mean you have to wear all black like you’re ready for the poetry slam. Display this shirt proudly on your own body or gift it to your favorite teacher or librarian. Then get back to whatever amazing takedown of a classic from the canon you were writing on Twitter.

Crazy Rich Asians Book Clutch

Carry your favorite novel to the classiest of parties with this clutch bag celebrating Kevin Kwan’s bestseller. Don’t worry, it’s the original cover, not the movie tie-in, so it looks totally legit and absolutely screams I KNEW THE BOOK BEFORE IT WAS FAMOUS (even if you didn’t, which is fine). Hand embroidered and made to order (with optional monogramming!) this handbag is as chic as the people in the novel. If you have a different book in mind, seller BookClutchStore can probably make it for you.

Too Hot To Sleep Art Print

Too hot? Or too hawt? Artist Jenny Kroik does lots of drawings featuring libraries and bookstores, but this one featuring a brown woman reading the night away in front of her fan hits all the feels for me, a desert rat who has had plenty of nights like those. This print can be hung on your wall in all manner of sizes and materials, so I know everybody can find a place for it. Personally I could do without the dog, but forgetting I still have my sunglasses on is very On Brand for me. The sun never sets on a badass.

“Songs. Language. Ceremony. Natural Law” Tee *

Reclaim Your Power is one of my favorite Instagram accounts to follow. While it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to wear this shirt when I’m not indigenous myself, I love its statement because songs and language are literature. OG literature, in fact. Well before we learn to read, our families and communities impart stories orally. The brand’s main slogan is “strong. resilient. indigenous,” which is an incredibly empowering statement to make for a collective of nations and ethnic communities that are all too often trod upon. I would absolutely buy this as a gift for someone who does identify as Native.

READ Bath Mat *

You may be familiar with this artist already, because Sean Qualls is a prolific picture book illustrator. His store has original art as well as highlights from his books. Assuming you don’t mind putting your (clean, post-shower) feet on his work, this bath mat would make an excellent and useful addition to your home. You know, so when guests come over, they won’t be able to forget for a second that you love books, not even when they have to pee. It’s never a bad time to remind people that books are the absolute best thing.

Joy Harjo Print

Part of Etsy seller khalion’s She series of famous women, fictional and non, this print features Mvskoke poet Joy Harjo and the command to WRITE. This collection of inspiring women is vast, so you can catch ’em all, Pokemon style, in prints, pins, or postcards. Other literary and book-loving figures available include Maya Angelou, Malala Yousafzai, Carrie Fisher, Meg Murry, and Galadriel. And don’t get me started on the superheroines, political figures, musicians, and actors available, or we’ll be here all day.

“Black & Bookish” Tee *

Simple, cute, and to the point. I’m Black. I also love books. The end. This tee from Black & Bookish comes in a number of fits, colors, and sizes, which means just about everyone can find an item that works for them. Or maybe five different items that work for them. I give you permission to go wild with your wardrobe and your wallet. Now, where can I find a pair of reading glasses that are bright pink so I can match from head to toe?

“Reading Together” Limited Edition Print

A picture of a diverse group of children crowding around each other to get a better look at a book would be the perfect addition to the children’s section of a bookstore or library or beautiful a centerpiece decoration for a new baby’s room. Illustrator Felicita Sala originally did this piece for the New York Times, and if you didn’t think to save it then, you’re in luck, because you can get it now—signed! Also, um, there’s a giraffe, which is a random delight.

Paulo Coelho Pin *

For those who love the world famous novel The Alchemist, a pin of its Brazilian expat author (now living in Switzerland) is the perfect fit. If you can’t find any more room on your 283052385072 book totes covered in pins, might I suggest starting a corkboard so you won’t lose them? If buying one pin at a time is impossible for you, you’ll have a lot of fun perusing Etsy seller PINetration818’s Spanglish and Latinx meme-filled items.

“Higher Learning” Print *

Find me someone who doesn’t like Vashti Harrison and I’ll find you a liar. An independent artist and book author-illustrator, Harrison has way too many amazing pieces to squee over for hours (my phone case and laptop decal are both decked out in Vashti art), but I love this one especially because I don’t tend to see many pieces of swag that have people with locs portrayed on them. Get a print for your wall or throw it on something more portable or utilitarian so you can tote around your readerly pride anywhere you go.

Rumi Quote Laptop Sleeve

Get a dose of poetry before every Zoom meeting with this laptop sleeve featuring the timeless Persian poet Rumi. PC users may be out of luck if their laptops aren’t similar in size to a Macbook, but you can also get the print on a sticker, coffee mug, or other items. The Dead Writers Circle seller also has you covered with some of your other favorite bygone authors, like Zora Neale Hurston, Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Mahmoud Darwish, and Bashō.

“Pretty, Black, Educated” Greeting Card *

The sentiment on this greeting card by kenique is a very assertive and self-celebrating flex, and I love it. I fear this is the type of stationery you buy and then don’t send to anyone because you just love looking at it too much to say goodbye, but since it comes in a set of three, that leaves you at least two opportunities to send a missive to a faraway friend. It took me a minute to catch the optical illusion effect, but that made me love it even more. Whether an autodidact or a diploma collector, anybody who reads widely and diversely gets to claim the title “educated” for themself.

“Summer Reading on the Lake” Tote Bag *

IF ONLY we could find pool floaties like the one on this tote by Japanese oil painter Tatsuro Kiuchi! He also captured perfectly the “I love being outside on the water but now the sun is in my face” struggle with the way the man on the raft is holding his book. If you’re already swimming (heh) in tote bags, you can have this image printed on a notebook, greeting card, or a number of other items for home or office. Hopefully this will tide us over until we in the northern hemisphere make it to summertime again.

Book Nerd Notebook *

Like many packrat reader-writers, I own way too many notebooks already, but whoops! There goes even more of my money on another. This one features an array of phenotypically diverse black women surrounded by their favorite things—books, one another, and a nice, roaring fire. Clearly they’re ready for winter. You can yoink this product with wide-rule lined paper for note taking or dot grid bullet journaling, so it’s truly a notebook for all occasions and purposes.

Birchbark Bookhead Beanie *

Why have I never heard the term “bookhead” before? It is definitely going to be entered into my lexicon immediately. If the weather is cold where you are, you can buy this Turtle Mountain Chippewa-owned, Native nations-celebrating bookstore’s branded stocking cap in rich burgundy and stay warm all winter long. Just be prepared to accidentally on purpose start clicking around the whole store to order a hundred or so books and art pieces at the same time.

“Let’s Read” Cross Stitch Chart

Crafters, this one’s for you. This pattern by hardcorestitchcorps, leveled at “confident beginner,” is the perfect size for bookmarks or can be worked into just about any other project of your choice. I think it would make for a pretty cool border on a larger sampler or funny quote about reading or literature. Featuring three differently shaded people, the design is simple enough for you to swap out skin tones for even more diversity. The DMC thread catalog’s the limit!

“Reading is Sexy” Tee

This isn’t exactly an original motto, but it’s definitely the first time I’ve seen the phrase accompanied by an image that didn’t look completely white. I love the textured hair in this one and think it will definitely feel close to home to people of many backgrounds and hair types. And if you search even more of Etsy seller QualityAppearances products, you’ll find a lot more punny book tees to add to your cart.


Happy shopping!

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