L.A. Free Black Women’s Library: Interview with Asha Grant
Last week at Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen in South Los Angeles, I photographed Asha Grant, founder of the L.A. chapter of the Free Black Women’s Library. Photos and interview (via email) below. — Jim Newberry
What is the Free Black Women’s Library, and what led you to create one in Los Angeles?
The Free Black Women’s Library is a radical library that’s for the people, by the people. It’s a traveling collection comprised only of books authored by Black women that pops up at various locations–usually art galleries, coffee shops, or community spaces–for folks to swap their books with ours. It was started by an amazingly creative, Black feminist magician, OlaRonke Akinmowo in Brooklyn, NY, 2015. I crossed paths with her and the library in 2016 while I was a graduate student in Harlem and I immediately fell in love with the community created around Black women’s voices. I had only really experienced that one other time at Spelman College, so it was a big deal for me. It made a lasting impact.
I moved back to Los Angeles that summer and kept the memories with me for a few years until I contacted Ola at the end of 2018. I was tired of not having places to go and events where I knew I could find Black girls in the city. In Los Angeles, it can feel like you have to be in a particular social circle to know about where to find folks that look like you and I felt it was time to dead all that. I launched the project in January and it’s been poppin ever since.
How can people get involved with the FBWL?
The best way to stay up with our social media. We’re on facebook, twitter, and instagram, although instagram holds our largest online community. I post new books to the collection and post about upcoming events we have. Our events are for folks of all ages, backgrounds, and gender identities, so I encourage folks to come through this fall. Some of the favorites we had this year include a workshop on Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” workshop I co-facilitated with Nicole Kelly of the Women’s Center for Creative Work.
I’m also always looking for volunteers. Folks can email us at email@example.com with “volunteer” in the subject line and I’ll add them to the volunteer email blasts. Still working on having a digital newsletter for those who aren’t on social media…so, coming soon!
Why focus specifically on black women?
This is always an interesting question. When people ask me in person, I usually respond with “Why not?”. I recently had a conversation with a woman who told me she didn’t realize how few books she had read written by Black women until she came to one of our events. She’s not alone. We’re fixing that.
What do you do when you’re not working on the free library?
I’m usually sitting on my porch with a Perrier and my laptop. I’m a digital media content producer for a few dope social justice orgs, so I’m constantly creating graphics and content that sort of does what the library does, brings people together. I also spend a lot of time nestled under my friends and in the chips aisle of Trader Joe’s.
What’s the last book you read that you loved?
I’m ashamed to admit I finished “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi just a few days ago. I had it on my shelf for about two years, started it last year, and never touched it again. I picked it up again last week and finished it in 2 days. It was a deeply emotional journey. One that I went on as a few years ago while teaching in Kumasi, Ghana and one I didn’t know I needed to go on again. It’s quickly turned into one of my top 5 favorite books of all time and is required reading for all.