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Community rebirth | Books | Weekly styling

Krystle Dandridge was frustrated.

The psychological counselor and avid reader is a fan of black authors.

But she noticed that their titles were usually only displayed in bookstores during Black History Month and then quietly removed. “Seventy to 75 percent of published authors are white,” she says.

So she decided to do something about it. In February, she opened The Book Bar at 1311 E. Main St. in downtown Richmond. The cozy shop offers books by black, indigenous and colored authors, and is the only independent store of its kind in the area.

“Black and brown authors are hard to come by,” she says as she sits down in one of the plush dark blue chairs set out in the store, which is located inside an old brick building.

It’s a cozy place and Dandridge also has an ABC license to sell wine by the bottle, so customers can take their time browsing the shelves and reading. Light meals are also available.

The store isn’t just welcoming, it’s also a testament to what appears to be a larger trend. After being criticized for years by retail giants such as Barnes & Noble and primarily Amazon, independent bookstores are enjoying a revival lately.

A report released last year by Harvard Business School Professor Ryan Raffaelli showed that from 2009 to 2018, the country’s independent bookstores grew by almost 50%, from 1,657 to 2,470.

Dandridge and others believe the growth is due to readers wanting to frequent stores with closer ties to their communities, while having more say in what they sell.

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Another factor could be the COVID-19 pandemic, with more people staying home and reading.

Dandridge thinks the number of independent bookstores in the area is growing primarily because readers want a sense of community. Google lists a dozen independent stores in the area, including Fountain Books and Chop Suey Books, not including religious outlets.

Retail giants such as Amazon, which actually started out as a bookstore, have strong advantages from market power and data-driven decision-making to the ability to take most orders online. and ship them in one day. But Dandridge notes that independent stores can do the same. One place to start is Bookshop.org, a site that can guide you to a store and list titles, she says.

Regarding what she offers in The Book Bar: “I like to try a bit of everything – mystery novels, thrillers, fiction, graphic novels, comics, children’s books.” Her favorite genre is fantasy writing.

She carries familiar black writers such as Toni Morrison and also sells “A Place Inside of Me: A Poem To Heal the Heart,” by Zetta Elliott. Another article is by anti-racism activist Ibram X. Kendi, whose penetrating views have sparked current debates on critical race theory, which describes the impact of systemic racism in society.

Kendi’s ideas are central to arguments about what is taught and read in schools. It’s such a hot topic that Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, made the issue a key part of his campaign last year to crack down on speech and teaching in classrooms. He offered to set up a “hotline” so that concerned parents and others can report what they consider to be faulty teaching and discussion.

Another trend is the censorship of textbooks. Across Virginia and the country, more and more schools are reviewing books in the curriculum and in the school library. Schools in Bedford County, for example, will email parents what their kids are getting out of the library.

Yet another controversial work turned out to be the award-winning novel, “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison. The 1987 book is about a once-enslaved family right after the Civil War. It won both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, but was criticized by some parents for its sex scenes. “Toni Morrison is at the top of the list,” says Dandridge.

She obtains books for the boutique from publishing houses, small regional houses and a few self-published works.

“There are a lot of regional presses,” says Dandridge, who is originally from New Jersey and moved to the Richmond area in 2008. She has a doctorate in psychology as well as a consulting practice. The Book Bar is open from Wednesday to Sunday.

Getting published, especially by big print shops, is tough, and Dandridge says it’s even tougher if the author is black. A 2019 study by children’s book publisher Lee & Low Books and Boston University showed that 76% of authors identified as white. This is down from 79% previously. Only 5% identified as black.

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Charlottesville author, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson.

  • Charlottesville author, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson.

Charlottesville author, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, had one of the most acclaimed first books in the country this year with “My Monticello”. The five-story, one-story book is being adapted into a Netflix movie and is currently a finalist for the Library of Virginia’s 25th Annual Fiction Literary Awards. [full disclosure: Style Weekly’s editor and Johnson are friends from their undergraduate days at James Madison University and she is married to one of his former housemates].

It could become even more difficult for black authors, at least among large publishers. Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster have announced plans to merge in 2020, with critics speculating it will only have a further impact on minority authors. A judge is weighing the Justice Department’s antitrust bid to block Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of its rival, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

National Public Radio explored the issue recently and cited writers, the Authors Guild and other sources. He interviewed Saira Rao, a Richmond-based author and politician who is South Asian American. She agrees that the merger will have a negative impact on minority authors.

She told NPR: “I have a white agent. Book publishers are white. Marketing chiefs are white. It’s white, white, white, white, white.