Ta-Nehisi Coates, Geraldine Brooks, Pamela Paul and Others In the Literary World Reveal Their Favorite Bookstores

Window at Eso Won Books in Los Angeles, among a long tradition of black bookstores.  J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times
Window at Eso Won Books in Los Angeles, among a long tradition of black bookstores.
J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Eso Won Books, Los Angeles

My favorite bookstore is the one I get to see the least these days: Eso Won Books in Los Angeles. I’m a child of the Black Power movement raised on the notion that the black diaspora was not just in need of its own particular politics, but of its own particular canon. Whereas other writers built themselves on Proust, Niebuhr and Camus, I was schooled by Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer and C.L.R. James.

Eventually I grew to understand that Dead White Men were more than that, and that my canon had to be more than a political statement. But my roots are what they are, and when you grow up in a world that denigrates those roots, they tend to grow deep.

Eso Won is one among a long tradition of black bookstores that sprang up to water those roots. It is part of the larger community of independent bookstores that writers celebrate, but its specific mission is to make sure black authors always have a home. This is important to me, not because it’s the world that I spring from but because it is the river I continue to drink from. On tour for my first book, I spent a solid hour there not just perusing the books but getting recommendations on what to read. I came home with Paula J. Giddings’s awesome biography of the pioneering investigative journalist Ida B. Wells, “Ida: A Sword Among Lions.” While I knew Giddings’s work before then, it was the conversation I had in the bookstore that sold me on it.

In much the same way we need diversity among authors and editors, we need diversity among the ranks of booksellers. They are the ultimate arbiters of our literary tradition. In these coming dark times, we can scarcely afford to be without them.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of “Between the World and Me.”

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SOURCE: The New York Times