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New smart bookstore amplifies voices of Black authors

blk + brwn bookstore
Posted at 7:07 AM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 08:07:26-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Since she was a kid, Cori Smith always had her nose in a book.

"Like growing up, West Wyandotte was my favorite place in the whole entire world," Smith said. "I think I was more excited about getting that library card than I was getting my actual drivers license ."

The Wyandotte County native said she's always felt safe with books. Smith decided to create a space amplifying voices of Black authors, called "Blk + Brwn. A smart bookstore."

"I grew up reading black literature and I realized a lot of people didn't have that experience," Smith said.

Now she hopes readers can experience what she did, seeing themselves in the stories told.

"I think it's just magical to see that there is a story written by a Black and brown person in all these different categories," Smith said. "We check all these boxes."

From fiction to non-fiction, the bookstore has a variety of different categories.

"We have cookbooks, we have children's books," Smith said. "There's definitely a lot of memoirs."

The bookstore's setup is similar to an art gallery, but for books.

"Certain books will come and go like installations but there's definitely some that will always be around and those are the books I call my 'Blassics,'" Smith said. "So like the Toni Morrison's, the James Baldwin the Richard Wrights," Smith said. "The whole Black Panther party memoirs will always be here."

And it's called a smart bookstore because each book comes with a QR code.

"I wanted it to have an element of like this is interactive, you can hear the authors talking and lecturing," Smith said. "You can hear playlists that are created around these books, even the children's are like read alouds from the authors."

From the authors to the bookstore's location, Smith said everything had intention.

"I wanted people to be able to like walk here or people on the bus line or on the streetcar line can still see the books, touch the books and walk out with the book," she said.

Whether it's new faces or familiar ones, she hopes books are just a bookmark for further conversations.

The bookstore also has a monthly book club for readers. This month's book is "How We Fight for Our Lives" by Saeed Jones.

There's also a mentorship program associated with the bookstore. It's called Cody's Homies, named after Smith's older brother who died in 2019 after he was hit by a car while riding his motorcycle.

"I want to create safe spaces, I want to create support systems, " Smith said. "I want kids to know it's okay to be creative and that they can see people that are creative that look like them that come from where they come from and that they can be supported."