Algorithms are amazing sometimes. You click on one thing and you get a million similar suggestions for months. It's usually annoying to say the least, until the algorithm Gods of Facebook decided to bless me with a list of black owned bookstores across the country.
I've watched movies like Love Jones and fantasized about having spaces like a cool record store or bookstore where I could just be; be black, be gay, be feminine, be dope. I sometimes imagine myself walking into those spaces with big hoop earrings (my fave), big hair, and a bold lip. I notices other black women starring with admiration that says, "I see you sis," because I match their fly.
Being that dope is a lifestyle and places like a black owned bookstore is the accessory I need for that lifestyle.
The list of bookstores was longer than I expected. Amongst them was Cafe Con Libros, a cute cafe style feminist bookstore located in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. This bookstore I wish I had growing up is owned and ran by Kalima DeSuze and her husband Ryan.
We were able to catch up with Kalima and ask her a few questions about Cafe Con Libros.
DL: Hi Kalima. Tell us a little about yourself.
KD: I’m the spiritual daughter of Yemaya and Ochun, Lady Guadalupe and Jesus Christ. I am the biological daughter of immigrant parents and now, a mother to a toddler. My political identity is Black Feminist and yes, I vote that way too! I’m an activist in my soul and a trained social worker in community practice. And, my love of books, plants and genuine relationships forms a major piece of my being.
DL: You and your husband Ryan, own a feminist bookstore. Why specifically a feminist bookstore?
KD: Black Feminist saved by life. My parents are immigrants to this country and while race and racism were prominent life forces in their native country of Panama, they lacked the understanding and language to help me navigate the material and psychic manifestations of institutional racism.
Reading Black Feminist literature affirmed my experience and offered tools for responding. More importantly, the images and narratives alleviated a sense of isolation and told me from whom I hail.
Therefore, I knew that my bookstore had to center Intersectional Feminism; I’m always on my own side and the side of womxn.
DL: I love that! I feel the same about black feminist literature, I just wish I was introduced to it sooner.
Books are considered a lifeline for many of us. I want to ask if you consider books to be a lifeline for you?
KD: Yes, books are a lifeline. It is a mirror, a guide and a friend all at once. It is to me, the universe giving me the exact message that I need at the right time.
DL: when did you recognize that?
KD: My first realization came while thumbing through Essence, Ebony and Jet magazines. From a young age, my mom exposed me to these specific magazines where I saw Black beauty centered. I can’t explain what I thought then; I did not have the language. I just knew that I was drawn to those magazines and always felt inspired. I spoke my mind often because I knew I could and had seen it done. There is something about sharing honestly and knowing that I deserved that. It really made a difference even as young as kindergarten.
DL: Now that you say that, I realize Ebony and Jet magazines were my lifeline. That was the best part about visiting my grandparents. I used to rush to the restroom just to thumb through those magazines. Especially to see the Jet beauty of the week. That's when I realized that black folks were gorgeous.
What was the first book you fell in love with?
KD: The first book I fell in love with was “Flyy Girl” by Omar Tyree.
DL: Why that book?
KD: "Flyy Girl" really spoke to me at the time when I needed it. I understood all the themes and it took the least amount of energy. It was almost intuitive. Unlike my favorite book, “The Bluest Eye,” I did not have to work hard, dig deeper or face many demons. I just read and shook my head in my adolescent way. It was written in a language that I could grasp and the themes were manageable so, I loved it.
DL: You mentioned "The Bluest Eye," was Toni Morrison your favorite author?
KD: Toni Morrison is my all time favorite. She speaks in a tone, with a cadence and regality that goes straight to the soul. And, nothing that she has ever said is just as it is. There is always a deeper more meaningful message. Toni Morrison forces the separation and bringing back together of the mind and soul. You can’t read her books and exist in one realm. She’s extraordinarily gifted as humanizing and making alive pieces long forgotten.
DL: Does your favorite author ever change?
KD: Toni Morrison has been my favorite most of my life in terms of novels. However, for non-fiction, political Feminist writing, it’s bell hooks and Audre Lorde. For contemporary fiction, it’s Chimamanda Adichie.
DL: You also have a podcast, “Conversations From The Café. After listening to a few, I immediately wanted to purchase every book you and your guest discussed. You are actively advocating for feminism and books in a way that is fresh and cool and needed. Was that your intention when you started the podcast?
KD: Yes, that was and is my intention, to read the world through a Black Feminist lens. It’s to really side with womxn and to make the intentional push toward altering the way we understand the world. Often, we see the world through the male gaze. What is loss when we wipe out more than half the population or when we only see it through white womxn’s eyes? Too much. I want to have richer, more layered discussions and I hope we’re doing that.
DL: I still love to hold books. I’m not the biggest fan of electronic books. Do you have a preference?
KD: Real books. I need to be with them…smell them; leave my imprints. There are some things technology shouldn’t touch and for me, books are one of them.
DL: In the Black Owned Brooklyn article, you talked about creating a space where it is ok to be brilliant and intellectual and still be from the hood and of the hood. Has that vision come true for you? Do you see the demographic you envisioned when creating this space?
KD: No, I don’t see the crowd that I wished would be there. I don’t see many folx like me who are 40 and are staunch Black Feminist. I often wonder if the very term “Feminist” keeps folx away. Are the low numbers of Black womxn a result of “gentrification”? Are folx confused by my identity as Afro-Latinx? Is it possible that identifying as Afro-Latinx is being received as anti-black? I don’t know however; it has been very difficult to not be able to connect w/ Black womxn. My Afro-Latinx community comes hard which I deeply appreciate. It wasn’t long ago that Black and Latinx wasn’t fully recognized so, their visible support mean so much. The fact remains, the world sees me as Black so, it’s important that my space is reflective and inviting of my Black sisters too. Not seeing as many Black faces takes a toll.
DL: I just have to say, when I found Café Con Libros online, I felt seen. It’s clear that this is for us. This is not a sub section in the back of some bookstore. Blackness, queerness and feminist is the bookstore, and I have to say thank you for that.
If you are not in the NYC area, you may find Cafe Con Libros at: https://www.cafeconlibrosbk.com/