Interview with Olaronke Akinmowo

Artist, yogi, self-proclaimed bibliophile, and avid biker, Olaronke Akinmowo plans to bring black women literature to the forefront this summer in New York City.

The born and bred Brooklynite, Akinmowo is promoting a mobile library in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn called The Free Black Woman’s Library. The purpose of the library is to promote black women writers. Ola was inspired to shed a light on a lack of racial and gender diversity in the literature world, especially when it comes to black women writers.

Artist Olaronke Akinmowo at her The Free Black Woman's Library  Photo Credit: Bianca Clendenin

Artist Olaronke Akinmowo at her The Free Black Woman’s Library
Photo Credit: Bianca Clendenin

“Our stories need attention…I’m interested in showing we’re not a monolithic…Whether it’s working 9-5 or being a stay at home mom or having a perm or being bald, or being light or being dark. Whatever. We all just have that spark that connects us. I’m interested in exploring that idea. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a way to give exposure to our stories?”

In a climate where hashtags such as #sayhername and #blackwomenslivesmatter are trending on social media to bring a focus on black women’s voices, Akinmowo’s mobile library is a breath of fresh air. According to the Facebook page, her library’s mission is “celebrating and honoring the brilliance, beauty, creativity, resilience and imagination of Black women, using the written word as my foundation.”

The concept of the library is based on an exchanged system. To receive a book you must exchange another. Your currency is a book written by a black women writer, the only rule for the library.

“We’ve received all kinds of books. Mainly fiction. Mainly adult. But I have received some young adult and I have received some children’s.” says Akinmowo. “I did receive a couple of political books, there are some duplicates. There’s also books I’ve never heard of…I’m being exposed to books I’ve never heard of!”

There were plenty of the heavy hitters in the library: Octavia E. Butler, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde to name a few. While also carrying more current writers such as Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Currently she has had 100 books donated to the mobile library.

 

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Photo Credit: Bianca Clendenin

Photo Credit: Bianca Clendenin

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Starting at the end of June, Akinmowo will be traveling throughout Bed-Stuy for the rest of the summer with her mobile library. She plans on moving the library throughout the neighborhood in a trailer using her bike and stationing the collection in public spaces. Currently she’s only focusing on Bed-Stuy specifically, but hopes to expand the project in the near future.

Her first stop was at STooPS, a community based event in Bed-Stuy that “uses the arts to bring people outside and promotes social interaction among artists, homeowners, residents, and businesses.” It was also a response to the growing issues concerning gentrification in the area, to bridge the gap between old residents and new.

Homeowners collaborate with local artists to host performances, showcase art work, and other creative ventures. STooPS is in its 3rd year.

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Had the chance to check out the opening of the library. Besides books, her library will also promote local black women artists inspired by the same literature that’s available. At the opening, Akinmowo performed a dance in conjunction to celebrate the debut on the library. Poet, Emerald Carter, performed a piece inspired by Zora Neale Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”.

Throughout the summer The Free Black Woman’s Library will also host all kinds of literary events, including “readings, an examination of Southern folklore and mythology, women in Afro-futuristic science fiction and black women in poetry“.

The weather didn’t dampened the event. Raining earlier that morning, the library ended up having a variety of visitors throughout the day. It even had its first exchange. One of the Black Women’s Library youngest fans, exchanged one of her books for another book in the library. The girl, who couldn’t be any older than 8 or 9 was the first library patron.

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Photo Credit: Bianca Clendenin

Akinmowo also hopes to expand the library to carry more children and books that cater to young adults. As a mother a daughter who is also an avid reader, she knows the difficulties of finding books for young black girls.

“Representation is so important for young people. If you’re a weirdo or alone. I see a lot of children’s books that lack characters with people of color, but they’re written by white authors. Which is fine, but we need more black writers.”

What Akinmowo has discovered in this whole process was how many adults haven’t been exposed to many black women writers. Her main object with this library was to bring an undervalued voice to

“There’s even adults who didn’t realize there’s a huge canon of black women’s lit to the point you can get a PhD in black women’s lit, they weren’t even expose to that concept until college.”

Olaronke Akinmowo has dedicated her life to investing in the lives of black people, and black women specifically. To have more creative platforms in urban communities. She anticipates that the library will eventually inspire others to branch out and create their own libraries for undervalued communities such as Latino writers, LGBT writers, and etc.

The library is still taking donations. You can donate by sending new or used books to 1072 Bedford Avenue, #39, Brooklyn, NY 11216.

For more information, visit the Free Black Woman’s Library Facebook page.

There’s also a Tumblr page.

 

 

 

 

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