Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Stop to start: Hue-Man Bookstore closing

Dr. Poussaint and Biil Cosby, November 2007
The news that Hue-Man Bookstore will close its doors on July 31st is reverberating throughout Harlem and across the Twittersphere. Once again, many readers are despairing the loss of a bookstore that is more than a commercial enterprise, that functions as a place that sustains culture.

Of course, the decision that owner Marva Allen has made -- to abandon the traditional brick-and-mortar model bookstore in order to consider how to re-invent their bookselling presence in a technology dominated world -- is practical, proactive even. However, the decision leaves a void in the community where her store, the largest Black bookstore in Harlem, was a coveted destination.

The news is disappointing beyond Harlem, too, like here in New Haven. Lots of folks in Connecticut followed events at Hue-Man; the store was their bookstore away from home. I have hopped on the Metro-North train to travel to a number of events at Hue-Man, such as the Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint booksigning (pictured). I saw folks from Bridgeport, CT at the Cosby and Poussaint event that evening. I've seen folks from Connecticut on other occasions at the store, too. As I did with Liberation Bookstore, also gone now, I have made a point of visiting the Hue-Man many times when I was in the city on other business. 

In her letter to the Hue-Man patrons, Marva Allen left readers to think about how booksellers that cater to Black interests will transform themselves to serve a readership that increasingly accesses books and information across many platforms, not just through a book store. With the loss of another venue, I consider how we as readers will make new conventions to sustain the cultural exchanges that took place when we flocked to our favorite bookstore to celebrate the release of a high-profiled book, at readings and at events to talk about a pressing community issue? How will we replace the cultural and intellectual impact that the iconic Black bookstore has had in our communities?

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