Charlotte was home to North Carolina’s first African American public library, the Brevard Street Library. The Queen City has a storied history when it comes to the role of literature and access to spaces promoting a variety of Black authors and narratives. What began with the establishment of the Brevard Street Library, continues with new offerings like Shelves Bookstore, MasterMind Podcast and Thee Lit House — each designed for today’s more diverse, mobile audience.
The Original: Brevard Street Library
The Brevard Street Library opened in 1905 in the heart of the Brooklyn neighborhood at the corner of Brevard and East 2nd streets. Charlotte historian Tom Hanchett explained that the library existed during a time when “African Americans were frozen out of resources across the country.”
Black Business Matters
The library was ultimately wiped out by the urban renewal movement of the 1960s. However, Hanchett says that the impact of the library’s existence is felt in the options that arose and continued to meet the need. Those additions include the James B. Duke Memorial Library at Johnson C. Smith University, local public libraries located within predominantly African American communities, and independent stores like Book Buyers, a used bookstore located in Plaza Midwood offering a “strong collection of African American history and contemporary literature.”
While Charlotte’s literary landscape has grown, Hanchett describes bookstores as being in short supply yet essential to our community.
“To me, bookstores are sacred places,” he said. “The knowledge of the elders is available to us. The internet has taken on some of that, but there’s no replacement. That’s the role of a good library…and you gotta love a bookstore.”
Looking to expand your reading repertoire this summer? Here are three options to get you started on your journey.
The Pop-Up: Shelves Bookstore
Philadelphia native-turned-Charlottean Abbigail Glen introduced Shelves Bookstore in May after exploring ways to pursue entrepreneurship through literature.
“Shelves is birthed from a love for books, love for camaraderie, and love for people,” she said about the mobile bookstore.
Glen curates each selection of books to expose readers to lesser-known writers and narratives. There’s also a carefully chosen roster of pop-up locations—including local favorites like Queen’s Coffee Bar and Enderly Coffee. She hopes to expand into corporations that see value in using literature as a tool for employee engagement.
“My biggest goal each day when I wake up is to connect with people and businesses,” she said. “I want you to buy a book, but I also want you to talk to someone that you wouldn’t ordinarily.”
The Podcast: MasterMind Podcast
Guided by the mantra “reading is lit,” Chris Ruffin and Malia Brown created MasterMind Podcast in January 2018 to reach Black millennials. The biweekly podcast has featured several inspirational reads ranging from the biography of Steve Jobs to several titles from the late Nipsey Hussle’s reading list.
While the book selections are broad, MasterMind’s focus is largely local. Their “author of the week” segment often features authors with roots in the Carolinas. Main Street Books in Davidson currently serves as the show’s book supplier.
“There’s a wave of people wanting to read more,” Ruffin said. “We need to have access and choice in what we feed to our children and families.”
The Subscription Service: Thee Lit House
Established by local blogger Tah Neely, Thee Lit House is an online subscription service offering customized bundles of secondhand books. Subscriptions featuring a variety of genres are available in six-month and one-year packages.
Sabrina Clark is a NY native who enjoys the South, but still loves the perfect view of a city skyline. She’s a social worker and child advocate who finds her zen by enjoying all that Charlotte has to offer.