Elizabeth’s Bookshop & Writing Centre is the intersection of all the things that empower Rachel Cargle. The prominent lecturer, writer and activist launched the online bookstore in May as a means of centering and amplifying Black and marginalized voices across all genres including science fiction, romance and more.
“Everywhere else in the world, we don’t get that opportunity to be centered and celebrated, and when we do, it’s often in the context of our oppression,” says Cargle, who writes a monthly column for Harper’s Bazaar.
After relocating to Akron from New York City earlier this year to be closer to her mother, Cargle was inspired to open a bookstore in her hometown. But when shutdowns as a response to COVID-19 complicated plans, Cargle instead turned to creating an online bookstore. The site, which has more than 250 books for sale across 15 curated reading lists, is designed for readers interested in decolonizing their bookshelves, a process through which Cargle describes as removing the white, cisgender, heterosexual lens from literature and replacing it with Black and marginalized voices.
“I have this expectation that people will be more critical about what’s on their bookshelf, and I’m hoping Elizabeth’s will give them new options for what they bring into their homes, their learning and their perspective of the world,” says Cargle.
Her #Revolution Reading List, for example, pulls together academic works from activists and feminists such as Angela Y. Davis, Reni Eddo-Lodge and more as a means of showcasing the Black experience around the world. It’s geared for both the Black and Brown community and white allies interested in broadening their education.
A Genius Among Us list compiles Ohio authors so that works by longtime icon Toni Morrison exist in close proximity to Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Columbus-based Hanif Abdurraqib’s The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, a sharp collection of poetry focused on analyzing race, gender and family.
“We try to give readers a map for ways they can bring more marginalized voices into their bookshelves,” says Cargle.
A percentage of all sales through Elizabeth’s will go to the Loveland Foundation, a nonprofit Cargle founded in 2018 to provide free therapy and mental health support to Black women and girls. And while Cargle still has plans to open a brick-and-mortar location in the future that incorporates lectures and workshops led by Black authors, she is partnering with local nonprofit the Well CDC to host pop-up experiences that build off of the online shop’s design. The first pop-up will be a ticketed event that takes place Saturday, Sept. 19 from 9:15 a.m.-2 p.m. at Compass coffeehouse in Akron's Middlebury neighborhood.
“For me, Elizabeth’s is just my personal brick in the wall of what we’re all doing to make the world and our spaces more inclusive of marginalized experiences and voices,” says Cargle.