The Community Book Center (2523 Bayou Road) has a motto: We celebrate Black history every day. And they’ve been doing it for a whopping 30 years! This weekend, the CBC is hosting an array of events to celebrate their anniversary, with offerings to entice any book lover or supporter of this fantastic community space–as anyone who’s stepped foot in the CBC knows, it’s much more than a bookstore; on any given night you can find a potluck, a theater group meeting, a nonprofit information session, and any number of folks coming in and out, browsing the books or clothing or collectibles, watching TV, or simply finding friendly faces to chat with.
Vera Warren Williams, the CBC’s founder and owner and a native of the Lower Ninth Ward, opened up shop while she was teaching in New Orleans public schools and found there was a dearth of children’s books available that featured characters that looked like her students–i.e. black. She amassed a stock that has since grown into easily the most comprehensive collection of books in the city related to Africa and its diaspora, which includes fiction, nonfiction, memoir, children’s books … the whole gamut.
Throughout her long tenure at the CBC’s helm, Williams has focused on supporting the black community–and, as she explains in to journalist Katy Rekdahl in this 2001 Gambit article, she urges the black community to support the CBC. This reciprocal relationship has long been the key of the CBC’s success, which will hopefully last for another 30 years.
Room 220 has had the pleasure of working with Williams and the CBC staff to host two events at the community center–a roundtable of international writers from the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2011, and a live discussion between local writer and attorney Billy Sothern and philosopher and McSweeney’s author Tamler Sommers on the philosophy of the death penalty in 2012. On each occasion, the CBC staff’s graciousness and accommodation were more than we could have wished for.
The vitality of the Community Book Center today is apparent in its ability to connect with younger groups in the city, such as 2-Cent, which hosts its Listen! Literacy and Arts Festival on Bayou Road outside the CBC each summer. The CBC also has the ability to inspire and provide for young black people moving to the city now, such as Aba Essel, whose essay about finding the CBC after moving to New Orleans Room 220 will publish in upcoming days.
In what some lament might be the waning era of bookstores, those who appreciate their existence have a responsibility to support them. The CBC is much more than a place that sells books–it is a bookstore in a sense that seems almost mythical these days, a place where intellectual and community activity thrive under a variety of conditions, partly hinged to the laws of commerce through its function as a retail outlet but wholly dedicated to serving a larger purpose. We implore you to come out to this weekend’s celebrations, and to return to the CBC with your support for years to come.