For a 2021 literary lookback, we noticed Los Angeles is evolving into a haven for Black female-run literary ventures amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But the evolution started years ago for many of the women taking up space physically and consciously in the LA literary scene.

California’s most populous city only had one renowned Black-owned bookstore with Eso Won Books founded by James Fugate and Tom Hamilton in 1990. The bookstore, located in the Leimert Park Village, recently had a cameo along with The Vanishing Half author Brit Bennett in HBO’s Insecure since star Issa Rae is a producer of the upcoming book-to-TV series for the network.

Years of Black women building safe, conscious spaces for readers of color and allies came into fruition in 2021 through indie bookstores, libraries, and book club festivals.

Issa Rae and Amber Dancy, holding The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, outside Eso Won Books in “Growth, Okay?!” episode.

The new Black woman-run bookstore in the greater LA area is The Salt Eaters Bookshop that had a soft opening earlier this month. Named after Toni Cade Bambara’s 1980 novel, the bookstore was funded through GoFundMe after the George Floyd protests erupted nationwide. One of the main conversations that came out of the 2020 protests were the lack of Black-owned bookstores to supply anti-racist and diverse reading material to local communities and beyond.

Asha Grant, director of The Free Black Women’s Library LA chapter, started the fund online in July 2020 and has since raised $84,500 out of her $65,000 goal to renovate a brick-and-mortar and maintain it for a year. The bookstore is located in downtown Inglewood on Queen Street.

“We did it, ya’ll,” reads the bookstore’s Instagram post after the Dec. 18 and Dec. 19 opening. “There aren’t enough words to describe how blissful this opening weekend was with you all. It was so incredible meeting SO many of you who donated to help make the dream a reality and have been following us and rooting us on from jump. We thank you for your support, all the shared stories, laughs, tears, and sweet messages.”

Already serving the LA area, Reparations Club doubles as a cultural space and a bookstore. Jazzi McGilbert opened the space in 2019 near the Crenshaw area. This year, the bookstore debuted on its new block in the same neighborhood. Reparations Club even hosted socially distanced, in-person Noname Book Club meetings in the last year.

Reparations Club

Indie rapper and literary activist Noname aka Fatimah Warner unveiled the Radical Hood Library in October under her namesake book club. The mission of the library is to make rare works by authors of color available to interested readers. It correlates with the mission of the book club to bring works by underrepresented authors to readers via social media and to incarcerated readers advocating for books. 

Two of the largest Black female book clubs center around LA with growing virtually beyond the city during the pandemic. Well-Read Black Girl, known for its New York roots, has more of a bicoastal presence with founder Glory Edim spending time in LA. Based in Inglewood and founded by Alysia Allen, Mocha Girls Read boasts over 9,000 members via across 14 chapters nationwide.  

WRBG hosted its fifth annual book festival virtually in late October exploring the theme of Black girlhood to complement Glory’s new anthology On Girlhood. The festival featured a message from former First Lady Michelle Obama and a keynote conversation with Gabrielle Union who recently released her second collection of autobiographical essays in You Got Anything Stronger?: Stories.

Glory will headline a podcast with producer Pushkin Industries debuting in February 2022.

Marking a decade of existence in 2021, the original LA book club for Black women celebrated its milestone with a conference also held on the last weekend of October. Mocha Girls Read co-hosted its first Black Readers Conference with Black Men Read that featured authors Kalynn Bayron, Christina Hammonds Reed, and Kimberly Latrice Jones.

The book club is looking for book reviewers in the new year.

With so many developments happening in the last year, LA will be a place to watch for the bookish community in 2022.