February 13, 2018

“It feels like our legacy”: DC’s Anacostia neighborhood gets its first new bookstore in twenty years


As any indie bookseller will tell you, opening a new store can mean both thrills and chest-clutching anxiety. And every once in a while, when a community has been without a bookstore for years, there’s another feeling, too — something closer to having met one’s responsibilities.

As Andrea Swalec reports for NBC Washington, Mahogany Books is the first bookstore in more than twenty years to open in Washington, DC’s historically black, and once notoriously crime-riddled, Anacostia neighborhood.

Soft-launched in November, Mahogany threw its official opening party this past Saturday as a joint celebration of Black History Month. Anacostia has seen its share of black history — Frederick Douglass (getting recognized more and more, we hear) lived there, for one. But in more recent decades, times have been hard. Store owner Ramunda Young told Swalec that as she greeted customers at the celebration, one older gentleman walked in and started to tear up. “I’ve never seen so many black books,” he said.

“It feels like our legacy,” Young later told Swalec, tearing up herself.

According to a recent study led by NYU’s Susan B. Neuman, Anacostia easily qualifies as a book desert, with one age-appropriate book per 830 children — compared with a 1:2 ratio in the wealthier Capitol Hill neighborhood. We’ve written about Neuman, Anacostia, and book deserts a lot over the years.

Work to bring books to the neighborhood is not limited to Mohagany — Swalec notes that in February 2016, the city launched a new program, “Books From Birth,” which provides a free book in the mail once a month for any child under five. Still, the store may prove a cornerstone for a more book-filled Anacostia. And it won’t be alone for long. Two additional bookstores are currently scheduled to open in Anacostia: a new storefront for Busboys and Poets, and the Charnice A. Milton Community Bookstore, named in honor of a local reporter gunned down in 2015.



Michael Barron is an editor at Melville House.