Community rallies around bookshop before it even opens

0
340
Asha Grant hopes to open The Salt Eaters Bookshop in Inglewood sometime next year. (Courtesy photo)

By Faith Petrie, Contributing Writer

Asha Grant had a duty to fulfill  it wasn’t anything assigned by a boss or higher-up, but an internal one.

When Gov. Gavin Newsom implemented stay-at-home orders in March, businesses were immediately affected, and Grant’s was no exception. She had been working on a business of her own since November 2019, a bookstore she would call The Salt Eaters Bookshop after the Toni Cade Bambara novel of the same name. She expected to table it until at least 2021.

Grant wanted her bookshop to center on not only Black women but femmes and nonbinary people as well and to make their stories the focal point of her business. That’s why when the deaths of Black women like Breonna Taylor and Oluwatoyin Salau made headlines, she had to act. Fast.

“If you’re not safe in your own home, then where are you safe?” Grant said. “Even though I know that [Black women] are just constantly under the threat of violence just by merely existing, we still exist and we’re still outside, and we’re still so brave. I wanted to be brave, too, and I wanted to create a space where I can do everything in my power to make sure that in this space, you’re safe.”

Since childhood, Grant yearned for books and spaces that were inclusive to Black women and their experiences. She was content with reading books featuring strong female leads like Scott O’Dell’s “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” Veronica Chambers’ “Marisol and Magdalena” and Debbie Allen’s “Dancing in the Wings,” but she still desired to see more characters that reflected her and her family.

Grant and her mother would spend time in Black bookstores like Eso Won Books in Leimert Park, finding books to make up for the lack of representation in the titles she read in school.

“My mom actually started making a children’s book series based off of a Black girl that looked like me to kind of fill in that gap,” Grant said with a laugh.

As an adult, Grant carried her love of books and literature with her to Atlanta, where she attended Spelman College and majored in English with a minor in comparative women’s studies and African diaspora studies. While there, Grant says she “affirmed” her racial and gender identities amid the other students also attending the historically Black college.

“In L.A. growing up, it was my first phase of exploring and being really critical of race theory and things like that, and then going to Spelman allowed me to understand my identity deeper in a more intersectional way and interrogate the ways that, even within our own communities, there are so many other parts of us,” Grant says.

While in New York for graduate school, Grant discovered another community that helped her uncover her identity: The Free Black Women’s Library. The Black feminist book swap left an impression on Grant and prompted her to ask founder OlaRonke Akinmowo for the blessing to open a chapter in Los Angeles.

“When I came back to L.A., I really missed having that community, and I was looking for something that was more recreationally focused on Black women — not necessarily something that was centered around our strife, but something where I could just have a really good time with like-minded people,” she said.

Now, with The Salt Eaters Bookshop, Grant hopes to build a community of her own that focuses on inclusivity. Last year, she found a potential space for her bookstore in her hometown of Inglewood on Queen Street, which Grant said is “so perfect.”

On July 11, Grant created a GoFundMe with a goal of $65,000 to finance the first year’s rent and renovation costs. Grant initially allotted two months to achieve her goal but reached the amount in less than one week with the help of more than 1,000 donors.

“I still can’t understand it, and I think we’re at $80,000 right now,” she said. “I’m also just shocked that people continued to give.”

Grant’s GoFundMe campaign was shared online by people like feminist author Roxane Gay as well as other independent bookstores including Prospect Park Books in Altadena, who wrote, “In this time when businesses are shuttering left and right, we are thrilled to see the huge support for a NEW bookstore in the L.A. area — and one owned by a Black woman to boot. Advance welcome to the Salt Eaters Bookshop!”

Although Grant hasn’t officially gotten the keys to the building on Queen Street, she has plenty of ideas for the space, including a children’s play area and a printing press for writers and creatives. She would also like to designate at least two desks for Black students or writers for a semester, so they have a place they can use to work.

Between the pandemic and finalizing negotiation terms, Grant isn’t entirely certain when Salt Eaters will formally open its doors, but she expects to have an online shop available in the fall and the physical store as early as January of next year.

In the meantime, she is focused on creating a shop that not only highlights the adversities that Black women, femmes and nonbinary people face but also places their accomplishments at the forefront.

“For centuries, we’ve been considered illegitimate by the masses, not even afforded the benefits gender promises women and femininity because of our Blackness,” Grant said in an email. “While creating a bookstore focused on amplifying very specific identities might seem limiting to some, I always think of the Toni Morrison quote where she says that writing as a Black woman doesn’t limit her imagination, it expands it. I see the shop similarly, an expansive literary place.”

This story originally appeared on Los Angeleno.com.