It’s 7:30 p.m. After ten minutes of attempting to adjust my earpiece, another ten settling myself in the camera, and a good five coaxing my daughter out of the room, it is finally time; time to sit in on a [Zoom] conversation with fellow book enthusiast and community artist Ola Akinmowo. Founder of The Free Black Women’s Library, a Brooklyn-based mobile book collection, Akinmowo is a trailblazer in celebrating and amplifying Black women writers’ voices. Be it through a book pop-up event or through the library’s extensive online collection of novels, memoirs, and poetry, TFBWL is a literary collective exploring the lives and experiences of Black women.
Akinmowo calls the library a “community engagement project,” where the only requirement for receiving a book is to bring a book written by a Black woman or a Black nonbinary writer, the Free Black Women’s Library is “a special chance for people to gather and be together in a special way.”
TFBWL Reading Room
Creating spaces that center Black people’s experiences is essential to Akinmowo, so she is currently working on creating a reading room for the TFBWL. The room will be a space “where all of the books that are in the archive can live.” In addition to books, the reading room will feature a plethora of other Black women inspired collections, including but not limited to scholarly journals, CDs, VHS tapes, comic books, and zines. Akinmowo envisions the space as a gathering place for those in the community to actively engage with the library’s content. In the reading room, visitors will not only have the opportunity to trade books, but they will also be able to view film screenings by Black filmmakers, attend book readings/signings by Black women/nonbinary writers, or simply sit in a corner to relax and read.
Like the mobile library, Akinmowo wants the reading room to be community-focused; however, she needs to find a location and hopes to pay whoever is in charge of handling the reading room’s day to day operations. Finding funds to put things in motion has proved challenging. After months of trying and failing to acquire various grants, she is now taking a more grassroots approach to raising money for the reading room. Recently, she created a GoFundMe page to help finance the project.
For now, though, the reading room is on pause. Like everything else in the country, due to COVID-19, TFBWL has fallen under challenging times. Though the library did organize a socially distant pop-up event last summer in Brooklyn (participants were given masks and hand sanitizer to use while they traded books), Akinmowo still feels that face-to-face events are a safety hazard and is cautious about doing another one any time soon.
In the meantime, The Free Black Woman’s Library continues to share Black women’s writing through virtual organizing. “[COVID-19] has caused us to transform the way we gather and the way we engage with each other.” An example of this would be the Free Black Women’s Library Youtube page. Featuring videos of Akinmowo discussing some of her favorite works in the collection, the page is funny (be sure to check out the video of her singing let’s talk about books!), personable, and an excellent tool for those looking to do a deep-dive into some of Black literature’s most incredible reads.
Along with the Library’s YouTube page, those looking to converse about Black women’s literature can join the Library’s online book club, as well as participate in its 2021 Reading Challenge, a year-long reading event that is sure to expand readers’ knowledge of Black women writers.
Akinmowo views the Free Black Women’s Library as an extension of herself. A vehicle for exposing Black art and beauty, she hopes that the Library continues to make people think, feel, and be inspired. “It’s been that for five years, and I hope it continues to be that in a much more sustainable way.” Akinmowo says that she loves seeing how excited people get when they see her collection of books and is happy to have the opportunity to empower and uplift her community.
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