This month’s pick is from across the pond – the coveted Busboys and Poets Books. Established by owner Andy Shallal, an artist, activist and restaurateur as a community gathering place, a place for all to listen, share, and conversate about literature, politics, society, and social justice in a productive and exciting atmosphere. They now have 7 bookshops dotted around the Washington, DC area, but it all started on V street between 13th and 15th street, NW, in 2005, as a homage to poet Langston Hughes.
‘Let America be America, where equality is in the air we breathe.’ Langston Hughes
Despite all the hustle and bustle in the bookshop, booksellers Maggie, Jen and Olivia took the time to share with us their favourite things about Busboys and Poets:
Q: What do you think is special about Busboys and Poets Books
A: We have a deep commitment to showcasing books and authors—on a local and national level—who have contributed to great social struggles. Prominently featuring the black struggle for civil rights, this also extends to issues of women’s and LGBTQ liberation, and more generally to the experiences of all the dispossessed and marginalized in this country.
Q:How / why did you get into bookselling?
A: When our owner, Andy Shallal, founded Busboys and Poets, his aim was to not only be a restaurant, but also a space where people can participate in intellectual, cultural, and political discussions. Having a bookstore within each of our seven restaurant spaces is a key part of our mission, and we’re so excited that we’ve been able to run them independently for the last two years!
Q: What has been your favorite event at Busboys and Poets? What event are you really looking forward to?
A: We host a variety of literary events throughout the year. Last October was a star-studded month when we welcomed Angela Davis, Alice Walker, José Andrés, and Nikki Giovanni for four fantastic book talks. Each event was truly spectacular. Looking into this fall, we’re excited to welcome more local authors to each of our locations. One of the best parts about our bookstores is their close proximity to some of the most talented authors in the country. We’re looking forward to welcoming more of them as well as our local communities to our events spaces this year.
Q: What’s the funniest thing you ever heard anyone say in the shop?
A: “So, did Langston Hughes open this restaurant?”
“Are these books free?”
“Can I use these rare coins to buy a book?” Followed by, “Do you know where a rare coin exchange is?”
Q: What’s your favorite And Other Stories book?
A: The And Other Stories book that’s gotten the most buzz from our booksellers around town has been Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera (trans. Lisa Dillman). But our Book Buyer, Jen’s, personal favorite is Michelle Tea’s Black Wave. She loves its unfussy, sharp prose and black humor.
Q: What book published in the last year do our readers need to get their hands on?
A: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi has been a hit with both booksellers and customers alike as a mystical coming-of-age story with hypnotic prose.
Q: If you had to pick one book to represent what Busboys and Poets stands for, what would it be?
A: I, Too, Am America, published in 2012, is a picture book in which Bryan Collier illustrates the Langston Hughes poem by the same title. We sell fiction, nonfiction and poetry for adults too, of course. But this Coretta Scott King illustrator award–winning book is perennially in our stores, and its title sums up much of what Busboys and Poets Books is about.