The Mosaic Community was created to help organize BIPOC booksellers to come together and learn to work together, to raise awareness of us as a community,” explains Nia McAllister, manager of the bookstore at the Museum of African Diaspora. The group was formed late in 2020 by McAllister and Calvin Crosby, then director of the California Independent Booksellers Alliance and now the co-owner of the King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, as an extension of CALIBA’s Mosaic Committee, which served BIPOC within the booksellers’ organization.
The Mosaic Community aims to help organize BIPOC booksellers to “come together to host author events and BIPOC author meet and greets, share best practices, develop education specific to their channel, raise awareness of their stores, and celebrate BIPOC authors,” McAllister said.
Any BIPOC bookstore in the country can join the group, so long as it’s a member of one of the eight regional bookseller associations. So far it includes the MoAD Bookstore (San Francisco), Underground Books (Sacramento, Calif.), Café Con Libros (Pomona, Calif.), the Collective Oakland (Oakland, Calif.), the Salt Eaters (Inglewood, Calif.), Reparations Club (Los Angeles), Marcus Books (Oakland, Calif.), Eso Wan (Los Angeles), Frugal Books (Roxbury, Mass.), 44th and 3rd Bookseller (Atlanta), and Fulton Street Books (Tulsa, Okla.).
The group has hosted two events so far, with bookstores across the community participating. These included, on January 27, a prepub Zoom conversation between Julie Lythcott-Haims and Anna Malaika Tubbs, author of The Three Mothers (Flatiron), for the launch of the book in February to celebrate Black History Month. “We’d been doing virtual programming over the past year at the museum and this was one of our best attended events,” McAllister says. “We then flipped the roles in April and had Julie in conversation with Anna again, but this time for the launch of Julie’s book Your Turn.”
Since then, Mosaic has been in virtual conversation about what direction they should take. They are actively recruiting new members, and McAllister encourages those interested to get in touch with her directly through email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A key part of the mission of the Mosaic Community is ensuring BIPOC communities know these stores exist primarily for them and to serve their needs. “For me, that kind of representation is at the forefront of my mind when I’m thinking about stocking books,” McAllister said, adding, “Obviously, other people come to the stores to learn and to engage with the content, and there’s nothing stopping them from doing that. What I have to say to that is, I would encourage everyone who reads to expand their knowledge of whatever literary canon they are interested in and to make sure they include BIPOC authors in the mix. It’s as simple as that.”
McAllister noted that 2020 was an extraordinary year for BIPOC bookstores, particularly Black bookstores, but acknowledges that 2021 has been more challenging. “It’s unfortunate, but people’s attention has moved on a bit and the high-energy support we saw last year has decreased a little.” She emphasized that support for BIPOC stores needs to be consistent, and not just after a horrific event or when social movements call for it. “It needs to happen all the time. Many of our stores are pillars of the community—some of them of very long standing—but they can only survive if people shop there regularly. It cannot happen without that. So our putting out a continued call to action is important.”