Kristina Clark has dreamed of opening Loving Room: diaspora books + salon since 2012.
This Labor Day, a full decade later, Loving Room, one of the few Black-owned bookstores in Seattle, opens at 1400 20th Avenue in the Central District, sharing a building with the Liink Project — Stephanie Morales’ cooperative retail space, art gallery and event venue highlighting Black artists and businesses.
“It had to be now or never,” said Clark, Loving Room’s curator, creator and owner. “I think I got to the point where I had to face the fact that, you know, it’s one thing to nurture this dream and to hold onto this dream, but without investing time, energy, effort and resources, that’s all it would be, which would be this dream and this hope.”
In June 2021, Clark quit her job as a family programs manager at Families of Color Seattle. She shopped ideas and rental space in the Central District. She raised more than $8,000 through a community-supported GoFundMe, with the money going toward rent, installation of shelving and the expansions of Loving Room’s permanent community book collection. She invested personal funds. Then she signed a three-year lease that started this past August.
“At the end of the day, this is a project about love, and it’s about Black love specifically,” said Clark.
Growing up in Ballard and attending Central District schools, the single mother of two dreamed of a safe place where Black children could be Black children — where Black children could fully belong.
She remembers when she served as a co-advisor to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School. She was told by one student, “Ms. Clark, Garfield is a white school,” said Clark, who also graduated from Garfield.
“And I was really shocked to hear those words being spoken because I was like, ‘How?'” she said.
Her experience as a bilingual paraprofessional showed her the disparities for Black youth. Black students weren’t counseled for the same career paths as white peers, she said. Black students have been kicked out of libraries for “talking to one another, maybe being loud, but literally just being young youth and also Black youth,” she said. And now, with misconceptions surrounding critical race theory in American schools, teaching about race and African American history is under attack, she said.
“I still felt that strong desire to create a space that’s really about celebrating Black people in the fullness of who we are — where we can engage with literatures and our histories, but not be policed for how we show up and how we do that,” said Clark.
Edwin Lindo, co-founder of Estelita’s Library — a social justice-focused bookstore a mile and a half away in the Central District, said there’s a great need for Clark’s new community bookstore.
“We have to think beyond what does a bookstore look like today and what does a bookstore look like tomorrow?” said Lindo. “It’s what Loving Room is. It’s what a bookstore could and should be.”
More than a bookstore
Clark’s 800-square-foot brick-and-mortar storefront is home to titles by Toni Morrison, Octavia E. Butler, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Colson Whitehead and Maya Angelou. It’s home to N. K. Jemisin’s “Inheritance Trilogy” and Kwame Alexander’s “Crossover” series. It houses picture books like “The 1916 Project Born on the Water” by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson and illustrated by Nikkolas Smith. It’s home to books on Yoruba idioms and African ceremonies. But not all these books are for sale.
Loving Room — which opened its reading room to the community with a soft launch on Aug. 21 — is a for-profit LLC in the business of selling books by predominantly Black writers. But beyond the bookstore, Loving Room exists as a community space: a reading room, a venue that can be rented and an art museum of mostly purchased and thrifted African work obtained from Etsy and shops from Bellingham to Olympia.
Loving Room’s creator prefers the title of “curator.”
Her collection includes a white Yoruba throne (she liked the idea of Black people sitting in the chair as royalty), busts of African sculptures, a Yoruba beaded sash and a Dogon wooden medicine cabinet (she wants Loving Room to be a place of healing). Clark, who describes herself as an emerging textile dye artist, hopes to eventually expand her collection to include more African textiles (“It’s putting the ‘text’ in textile,” said Clark).
She also wants to eventually expand her on-site community reading room into a lending library, and to host local writers, book clubs, film screenings and more.
“It was always a goal to be around the reclamation of Black culture in the CD,” said Clark.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the neighborhood Clark grew up in. She grew up in Ballard, attending schools in the Central District, and later relocated to the Central District as an adult.