Akron has a new pop-up bookstore and writing center focused on highlighting diverse authors in all aspects of literature and nonfiction.
Author and activist Rachel Cargle started Elizabeth's earlier this year as an independent online bookstore. She’s using the power of her own voice and her nearly 2 million Instagram followers to change the landscape for how we see writers and authorship.
Cargle launched Elizabeth's online bookshop in May, the same month protestors filled streets across the country protesting racial injustice in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Over the summer links to anti-racist books and authors flooded social media streams. By July, sales of books on anti-racism jumped 2,000%.
"The new intense focus on anti-racism does not mean it's a new topic of conversation," Carlge said.
To Cargle, who is originally from Green, the surge means a lot of white people are now opening their eyes to concepts people of color have been fighting for centuries: "to be heard, to be valued, to matter, to be respected, to stay alive."
It's about more than sharing a hashtag or adding a list of Black authors to your Instagram feed.
"I hope that this time is just an onramp to continued learning and not just a social media trend or a social fad," she said.
Akron’s newest indie store
Northeast Ohio doesn't boast the number of independent bookstores that other metros have, especially when it comes to stores owned by people who aren't white.
"It was one of the things that prompted me to even come up with the idea to start a bookstore," Cargle said.
"As a writer and having lived in New York City I was so used to jumping up and running down the street to a local bookstore to sit and be inspired by the authors on the shelves."
But when Cargle moved back to Akron she was disappointed in the lack of options her hometown had to offer.
"So I decided to do it myself," she said.
She launched Elizabeth's pop-up Sept. 19, which is located inside Compass Coffee in Akron's Middlebury Neighborhood.
Black and Brown authors write about so much more than anti-racism, Cargle said, just take a look on the shelves at Elizabeth's.
She wants people to come in and see books about surfing or marine biology written by nonwhite authors.
"A book about something that they never would have made the connection between Blackness and this part of existence. But we're there, and we're creating meaningful stories," she said. "We're writing science fiction. We're telling our experiences in various areas of life, and I hope that's celebrated at Elizabeth's."
Helping people write their stories
The bookstore is just half of Cargle's mission to celebrate authors. In tandem with the pop-up shop, she started Elizabeth's Writing Centre.
"So much of seeing ourselves in literature is actually being able to write our own stories," she said.
She hopes the literary center inspires writers to create their own stories from the disabled community to LGBTQ+ writers to immigrant communities.
"It's something that I as a little girl here in Akron would have absolutely adored! And I'm excited to see how everyone from younger children all the way up to the senior community here in Akron – who have so many incredible stories to tell – that are able to come together and get those down on paper,” she said.
The Loveland Foundation
10% of proceeds from Elizabeth’s book sales go to Cargle’s own nonprofit The Loveland Foundation.
What started out as a birthday fundraiser has grown into a foundation that helps connect Black women and girls with free mental health services.
"There's no hoops that Black women and girls have to jump through to get this service," Carlge said. They don't have to "prove their trauma."
"I wanted to find a way to break that cycle. The Loveland Foundation, through our therapy fund, we have a simple sign-up list for Black women and girls," she said.
They’re connected to therapists who reflect them culturally.
"So we’ve been connecting with incredible listservs of therapists full of Black women, full of trans and queer people, to give the people who [are] seeking therapy an opportunity to really heal under the direction and the therapy of people who can connect with them in a very deep way," she said.
Writing her own story
Cargle is in the middle of writing her own book titled "I Don’t Want Your Love and Light" about the intersection of race, feminism and womanhood.
The book is also part memoir.
"I'm excited to get this out into the world and for people to know me a little better and hopefully connect with the work that we do," she said.
"It's whirlwind to both grapple with myself in this new career and this new space that I'm existing in where people are truly listening to me for understanding about something," she said.
She hopes she’s giving people the tools they need to better exist in the world.
"It's just really cool to have been able to build a career where I can do fun things like open a bookstore, as well as do really more intensive things like lecture at some of the Ivy leagues. I recently got to walk in New York Fashion Week," she said.
"I'm just really excited and proud of the different spaces I’ve been able to exist in in meaningful ways."