The Free Black Women's Library with Asha Grant
My name is Asha Grant--I’m an L.A. native, educator, organizer, and researcher committed to protecting and preserving the stories of Black women and girls. I studied English, African Diaspora Studies, and Comparative Women’s Studies at Spelman College which I credit for kickstarting a more formal desire to create spaces by us, for us. I also really enjoy telling men no and reclaiming my time. For more detailed information about my life, I highly recommend Season 3 of Insecure.
I actually didn’t create the original The Free Black Women’s Library. That was started by OlaRonke Akinmowo in Brooklyn, New York and has been putting out brilliant programming for a few years now. The Free Black Women’s Library - Los Angeles is a new sister-site that operates as a traveling, feminist book swap centering only Black women writers. We also host events, workshops, and teach-ins at local businesses in the city. Cara and Desiree are two dope Black women I met after putting out the call on our instagram for folks dedicated to carrying out the vision--they’re pretty awesome. Together, we kick ass.
Why did you start The Free Black Women's Library?
I stumbled across The Library when I was living in Harlem, NY and loved the concept and community so much. I moved back to L.A. in 2016 and never stopped thinking or missing it. I craved authentic spaces and events that made me feel safe and at home in my both my Blackness and womaness. I made the decision to contact Ola about starting a sister-site here in L.A. this January. She was thrilled at the idea, gave me her blessing, and it’s been poppin ever since.
How have you seen it make a difference?
In just a few months we’ve gained almost 5,000 followers on instagram and a boatload of supporters and really amazing volunteers. People are ready to celebrate Black women’s voices. More than I realized, which is really comforting and good to know particularly in these times. Lots of folks have reached out overjoyed that Los Angeles will be able to participate in this movement to spread what we call “Love, Literacy, and Liberation”. Our first pop-up event will be this June, so we’ll see the difference it’s made soon enough. Literally can’t wait. We just had a mini-event we’re calling “Lavender and Lit Saturdays” at The Underground Museum that was so dreamy and perfect. More of that to come!
Why did you decide to expand to the West Coast?
I talk to my friends about this a lot, but Los Angeles can be so white. We’re not New York or Atlanta..Black folks are here trying to hold it down every day, fighting gentrification, fighting for our lives, literally. It is important for Los Angeles and the west coast, generally, to know Black folks--and more specifically, Black women--are here. We have to mark our visibility. I recently learned about Charlotta Bass, a Black woman from Los Angeles who started her own newspaper and ran a community library from her garage in the early 1900s. Never heard of her until this year, but I bring her up to remind folks we are not new to this! We’ve been doing this work, all of us are legacy children.
What will be different between the West and East Coasts: How do you serve the two differently? How is the community around them different? Does it affect your efforts?
One major difference between the two coasts is that really I think the East Coast has been primed for this sort of event. Particularly in New York, it’s commonplace to walk down the street and see folks set up with tables stacked with books. It’s also more commonplace to just walk around...it’s the way the city is set-up. The West Coast is very spread out. Before folks commit to going to an event, parking and traffic has to be considered, which can be a huge deterrent for folks (or maybe that’s just me). There are also just different demographics on each coast. Places like Harlem and Brooklyn, despite gentrifications efforts, are large, historically Black communities. We have our spots here in L.A.--Inglewood, Ladera, Baldwin Hills, etc. but I’m not sure they can compare to states that just literally have more Black people than California.
It does affect my efforts. I think it makes me go harder.
What is next for The Free Black Women's Library?
We have our launch party and highlight night coming up at the end of this month where we’re going to celebrate The Library, local Black women poets, and really all things Black women. It’s gonna be cute! We’re also asking for guests to bring at one gently used or new book written by a Black woman to the event as a donation. We’re still trying to gather #300blackwomanbooks by June, so hopefully folks can help us make our goal at this event! We’re also planning our kick-off event in June and our summer events. We’ll release more details about that in May, but please stay connected with us on social media for more information about that.
How do you describe your slay?
I love this question! I would describe by slay as free, deliberate, and not white! Non-white slay.
Thank you Asha! Follow along with The Free Black Women’s Library as they grow!
To attend their launch party, buy tickets here.
To donate to The Free Black Women’s Library, GoFundMe