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Diversify your bookshelf at Duende District!


In publishing, as in life, diversity is a good thing. There’s been a groundswell of concern about the dearth of racial and cultural diversity on America’s bookshelves — and Angela Maria Spring is doing something about it.

In April, Angela opened her new bookstore, Duende District, as a pop-up venture at Artomatic in Crystal City. Her mission is to highlight books by writers of color, and to create a network of authors and publishing professionals with an interest in promoting culturally diverse work. Once Artomatic is over in early May, she plans to follow with a permanent location in the DC area.

Full disclosure: Angela and I are not strangers. In fact, it was a chance encounter at a book club in February that resulted in this new venture. As literature coordinator for Artomatic, I’d been wishing we could offer a bookstore on site — and it just so happened that Angela had been dreaming of opening one.

Two short months later, amidst the frenzy of actually running a store, she was kind enough to answer some of my questions about on literature, diversity, and launching a new venture.

Who do you have in stock, and what made you choose those particular works?

As I’m only carrying about 75 titles, it was important to highlight the bones of what Duende District will carry in its bricks-and-mortar store — fiction, memoir, essays, poetry, social criticism, and teen and children’s picture books. I also have a special section reserved for any Artomatic participants who would like to sell a book through the bookstore.

For the Duende District inventory, all the books by authors/illustrators of color or are authentically supportive of people of color. Some are books I’ve read and loved, like Brit Bennett’s The Mothers and Daisy Hernandez’s A Cup of Water Under My Bed, or were recommended by fellow booksellers of color or trusted PoC book bloggers. A lot of my children’s books came from using resources from WeNeedDiverseBooks.org.

Tell us a little about your journey to get to Duende District — what was your road to working with books?

I’ve been writing poetry since I was 6 years old and obsessed with books since first learning to read. In a way, I can see how my mother’s love of reading and our weekly trips to the bookstore all throughout my childhood would lead me down the path to bookselling. It is one of three branches of my career tree — I’m also a journalist and poet — but it’s the strongest. I had my first bookstore job in Albuquerque at the Waldenbooks when I was 19, and have worked in bookstores in New York City and Washington, DC, since then, with my last job as the floor manager at Politics and Prose. Books are my life, and finding ways to create an amazing bookstore experience for our communities is my passion.

Can you talk about diversity — what role it has played in your life, and why it’s so important in literature?

I’m first-generation Latinx. My family is from Panama and Puerto Rico, and they immigrated to New York City in Queens and Brooklyn. In addition, I’m from New Mexico, which has one of the strongest populations of Hispanic and Native-American people in the U.S. All of these things have shaped me as a writer and bookseller. 

I’ve experienced firsthand how rich a combination of cultures can fuel creativity, art, and writing. And DC is such a vibrant city of black and African-American communities, as well. The best literature comes from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. We must champion these stories, writers, and artists, because they are what gives the fabric of this country color.  

Starting a business is a nerve-wracking proposition. How did you get the courage to begin this venture?

This last year has been all about learning to excise fear. Often, we stand in our own way and don’t realize it. It takes a shock to wake us up and move us. For me, it was when I realized I’d been complicit in an industry run by (and often for) very well-meaning white people. I was constantly the only person of color in meetings, and often no people of color were actually in the ultimate decision-making room, especially when regarding curation of programming and book buying for people of color. Then I thought about how few people of color I’ve worked with in bookstores over the years and how even fewer made it to senior positions, such as event planners or buyers.

I am not a person to stand by silently, and I was ashamed that I had been doing it for so long because my own pale skin and upper-middle-class upbringing afforded me that privilege. That’s not who my family raised me to be. I am a seasoned bookseller who has trained many of the booksellers in DC, and our communities of color deserve the best bookstore experience created by book professionals of color. We’ll create that space and then open the doors to everyone, because a bookstore is a conversation, and everyone should be welcome to take part in the conversation we’re creating.

What has been the most challenging part? And what has been the sweetest reward?

It’s two of the same — it’s exhausting and expensive to start something like this from scratch by yourself, but I can do it and it’s worth doing. I’ve had many conversations in the last three months with so many people who connect very strongly with my vision, and now, at the pop-up in Artomatic, I’m seeing customers’ eyes light up when I tell them about my mission and put books in their hands. They see a beautifully displayed space that’s warm and welcoming, with attractive, wonderful books and a bookseller who comes from a similar experience who’s saying, “We are worth this. We deserve this.” And the best part is that everyone can enjoy this experience.

How do you see moving forward after Artomatic?

I’m funding both the pop-up at Artomatic and making Duende District fully mobile with a Kickstarter campaign right now. I’ve had a lot of people talk to me about many different places in the DMV that they’d like to see a bookstore like this, and I want to find the right community, so it’s important that I take the bookstore to as many places as possible to test out where the best place to set up the bricks-and-mortar location should be. So I’ll be everywhere, and if anyone wants to see Duende District in your community, just email me!

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