Kristina Clark has dreamed of opening Loving Room: diaspora books + salon since 2012.
On this Labor Day, a full decade later, Loving Room, one of Seattle’s few black-owned bookstores, opens at 1400 20th Avenue in the Central District and shares a building with the Link Project – Stephanie Morales cooperative retail space, art gallery and venue highlighting Black artists and businesses.
“It had to be now or never,” said Clark, curator, creator and owner of Loving Room. “I think I got to the point where I had to face the fact that cultivating that dream and holding on to that dream is one thing, but without investing the time, energy, effort and resources, that would be all that would be this dream and this hope.”
In June 2021, Clark quit her job as the family programs manager at Families of Color Seattle. She bought ideas and rental space in the Central District. She raised more than $8,000 through a community-supported organization GoFundMe, with the money going toward rent, installing shelving, and expanding Loving Room’s permanent community book collection. She invested personal funds. She then signed a three-year lease that began last August.
“At the end of the day, this is a project about love, and it’s specifically about black love,” Clark said.
The single mother of two grew up in the Central District dreaming of a safe place where black kids could be black kids—where black kids could fully belong.
She remembers when she was an associate counselor for the Black Student Union at Garfield High School. A student told her, “Ms. Clark, Garfield is a white school,” said Clark, who also graduated from Garfield.
“And I was really shocked to hear those words spoken because I was like, ‘How?'” she said.
Her experience as a bilingual paraprofessional showed her the differences for black youth. Black students are not recommended the same career paths as white peers, she said. Black students have been kicked out of libraries because they “were talking to each other, maybe loud, but were literally just young teens and black teens too,” she said. And now, with misunderstandings about critical race theory in American schools, teaching about race and African American history is under attack, she said.
“I still felt this strong desire to create a space that was really about celebrating Black people in their fullness — where we can engage with literature and our history, but not be policing how we emerge and how we do that ‘ Clark said.
Edwin Lindo, co-founder of Estelita’s Library — a social justice-focused bookstore located a mile and a half away in the Central District — said there was a great need for Clark’s new community bookstore.
“We need to think beyond what a bookstore looks like today and what a bookstore looks like tomorrow?” said Lindo. “This is Loving Room. This is how a bookstore could and should be.”
More than a bookstore
Clark’s 800-square-foot store houses titles by Toni Morrison, Octavia E. Butler, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Colson Whitehead and Maya Angelou. It houses NK Jemisin’s “Inheritance Trilogy” and Kwane Alexander’s “Crossover” series. It houses picture books such as The 1916 Project Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson and is illustrated by Nikkolas Smith. It houses books on Yoruba idioms and African ceremonies. But not all of these books are for sale.
Loving Room — which soft-launched its reading room to the community on Aug. 21 — is a for-profit LLC that sells books by mostly Black writers. But beyond the bookstore, Loving Room exists as a community space: a reading room, a venue that’s available for rent, and an art museum with mostly used African work acquired from Etsy and shops from Bellingham to Olympia.
The creator of Loving Room prefers the title curator.
Her collection includes a white chair resembling a Yoruban throne (she liked the idea of black people sitting on the chair as kings), busts of African sculptures, an African sash and textiles, and an African wooden medicine cabinet (she wants Loving Room a place of healing). Clark, who describes herself as an aspiring textile dye artist, hopes to eventually expand her collection to include more African textiles (“It puts the ‘text’ in textiles,” Clark said).
She also wants to expand her on-site community reading room into a lending library and host local writers, book clubs, film screenings and more.
“It was always a goal to address black culture reclamation in the CD,” Clark said.