By Anqi Zhang
BU News Service
BOSTON — Scaffolding surrounds 786 Dudley Street in Dorchester, hiding a closed bike shop inside. A notice board at the door is the only evidence that the second “Print Ain’t Dead” pop-up bookstore event took place there on the afternoon of Nov. 4.
Arielle Gray and Cierra Michele organized this community-based bookstore that sells new or slightly-used books written by people of color. It functions as a series of pop-up events. The next one is set for Nov. 18, at the same location.
Chloe Wong, a poet and writer, was invited to read her poems. The event attracted around 20 readers. Some of them were organizers’ friends and some learned about it through social media. One painter came here for the last day of his own exhibition, accidently discovered the pop-up bookstore and took part in the event. His paintings were hung on the walls inside the bike shop.
Event planners came early and placed two bookshelves, two display tables, several chairs and a large carpet with a rattan armchair on it.
Those attending did not leave after selecting books. With soft music playing, some of them read books alone, leaving the world around them far behind. Other readers sat in a circle and talked with each other and some even half-laid on the carpet.
Nephtalie Dujour and Julia Conka were the first guests. Dujour expressed her love for books and her enjoyment in meeting new people who share that interest.
“We came here last time and it was great! So we came again to get more books,” Conka said.
It took Mattaya Fitts more than an hour to get to the pop-up shop. She thought the bookstore was unique.
“It’s really accessible — the prices especially,” Fitts said. “It’s always good to have space where people can read together. There is no pressure to buy books. Everybody here feels relaxed.”
Ben Brazelton was one of three white readers there and he even brought his lunch there.
“I think everybody comes here for the same reason. I come here because I like to support writers of color and I love poetry,” said Brazelton.
When the poet came ahead of the audience and introduced her poetry, everybody quieted down. The crowd all looked in one direction towards Wong.
Wong read some chapters in her poetry collection called i didn’t become a cowboy but i still wish i was an astronaut. Her voice sounded small and mild. The audience looked at the performer’s face quietly and only engaged with the performer in between chapters.
Since high school, Wong had been exposed to writers who thought about issues on the lack of literature written by people of color. She also found that there were a lot of books that “spoke to her heart, but did not speak to her experience.”
“Obviously, all presentations are important, but having the knowledge that other people are going through and feeling the same things as you thought, is so, so important,” Wong said.
“Literary spaces in Boston tend to be very white-centered in book clubs and bookstores,” said Arielle Gray, one of the organizers. “We want to make them less centered around whiteness and more centered around all of our cultures.”
Cierra Michele, the other organizer, shared similar feelings on the problem of imbalance. When she visited bookstores in Boston on her birthday last year, she could hardly see works by black artists.
After two friends came up with the idea of setting up an accessible bookstore focusing on writers of color in their community, they applied for and got a grant to organize the project. The grant was from Dudley Square Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), which empowes diverse community programming organized by Dudley residents.
Gray and Michele searched books from their personal collections, people’s donations and some were directly bought from authors. All the books were priced between $2 and $5. Performing artists would acquire 80 percent of the proceeds from the books, with the remaining 20 percent serving as funds for the next event.
Looking at the scene where people read, talked and shared, Michele seemed satisfied.
“This is what I want. I want everybody coming here to feel comfortable,” Michele said. “They can look at books, hang out and be in fellowship with each other.”