The thing about rare books is that they’re, well, rare — which means too many hidden gems are well out of reach for the everyday literary enthusiast.
Solange is trying to change that. The singer’s creative studio Saint Heron recently launched a free community library that aims to increase access to rare and out-of-print works by Black and brown authors.
The initiative launched this Monday, and features a curated collection of 50 books that readers in the US can borrow for up to 45 days. The collection spans fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, visual arts and more, and is directed at students, artists, designers, musicians and literary aficionados.
“We hope that by encountering these works, our community is inspired to further explore and study the breadth of artistic expression and the impact of Blackness in creative innovation throughout history,” Saint Heron says on its website.
The library’s collections will vary by season, each compiled by a guest curator. Behind the first batch of books is Rosa Duffy, founder of the Atlanta-based book shop For Keeps Books, which specializes in rare and classic Black books and also functions as a community space. That collection will be available through November, according to Variety.
Many of the authors featured in Saint Heron’s initial collection will likely be familiar to bookworms: Octavia Butler, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde and Ntozake Shange are among the big names. Duffy, however, highlights works of theirs that might be lesser known.
“For this Saint Heron Library collection, it was really focusing on the people that we know and love, but we might not know the details of what they do,” Duffy said in an interview with Saint Heron. “So highlighting these artists, I think that’s really important, because then you get to the different mediums and the different spaces that we can move throughout that we might not always be affirmed that we can move through.”
Duffy spoke about the ways that rare books have often been inaccessible to Black readers and how she wanted to shift that reality.
“The library is so that these things that were meant to be in our hands are just in our hands in the same way that they were printed in the East Village, handed out for US$1.50 by the droves,” Duffy said. “That’s kind of what I’m trying to mimic or duplicate.”
Readers are allowed to borrow one book a person on a first come, first served basis. The books will be shipped to community members with the cost of shipping and returns included.