Chaun Webster and Verna Wong in front of what will be their new bookstore
Photo by Connie Beckers
North Minneapolis is getting a new bookstore care of Chaun Webster, director of Free Poet's Press, and his wife, Verna Wong, a teacher in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. The two have signed a 16-month lease at 2205 Lowry Avenue, between Northland Hardware and Lowry Café (the space previously housed Goddess of Glass). They hope to be up and running by the time school gets out in June. The duo are currently fundraising for the store, which will be called Ancestry Books, through a Kickstarter campaign that ends March 8.
In addition to running Free Poet Press, Webster is also a teaching artist at the Loft. The new bookstore is something that he and his wife have wanted to do for the past five years.
Last summer, Free Poet's Press partnered with the Cleveland Neighborhood Association for the Cleveland Critical Literacy Project, which made literature by underrepresented authors available to the community by setting up free library houses (similar to Little Free Libraries) outside of neighbors' homes. The idea behind the project, much like Ancestry Books, was to provide access to literature that's not commonly available in libraries or bookstores.
According to Webster, Ancestry Books will feature an emphasis on authors of color, authors writing about queer theory, and queer-identified writers of color, as well as writers focused on critical thinking and non-normative perspectives on economics, urban planning, and so forth. There will be books available for children and adults, but the focus on critical thinking will pervade throughout. Even kids' books might, for example, challenge racial hierarchies or offer alternative thinking about masculinity and femininity.
As someone who felt transformed by authors such as Octavia Butler, Isabel Allende, Maxine Hong Kingston, Louise Erdrich, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, and Arundhati Roy, Webster wants to make sure works by these and other underrepresented authors are available to north Minneapolis's diverse community.
The couple has been in talks with schools in the area, such as Lucy Laney, which is a few blocks away, about building partnerships. This includes the possibility of schools purchasing books from the store instead of Amazon or corporate Scholastic. The proximity to Lucy Laney in particular also means the possibility of students visiting the store after school and for field trips.
Besides being a bookstore, Webster says Ancestry Books will also be a place where community can connect and interact. "It's not just a space where people will buy books," Webster says. "People can organize in a space like this." That means they'll host events at the shop and also possibly next door at the Lowry Café.