In celebration of Black History Month, we are spotlighting a special institution in our own community. We are honored to feature Marcus Books, the oldest Black-owned bookstore in the United States, located in Oakland, California. For over 60 years, Marcus Books’ mission has been “to provide opportunities for Black folks and their allies to celebrate and learn about Black people everywhere.”
Over its six decade history, Marcus Books has hosted iconic authors including Toni Morrison, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou and countless others. San Francisco’s newest Poet Laureate, Tongo Eisen-Martin, reflects on growing up in Marcus Books in his poetry. This historic business has been essential in building cultural competency and intellectual awareness in the Bay Area.
We recently caught up with Blanche Richardson, who is the current owner and also the daughter of Marcus Books founders Drs. Julian Richardson and Raye Richardson. She shared a few of her favorite books with us—including some new titles she’s excited about.
Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 by Ibram X. Kendi & Keisha N. Blain
Blanche’s first pick was a book that just arrived in her shop the day we spoke. A crisp stack of copies sat gleaming near the register—clearly an eagerly awaited release. The latest work from acclaimed writer Ibram X. Kendi (author of How to Be an Anti-Racist) and historian Keisha N. Blain (author of Set the World on Fire), this unique community history, edited by Kendi and Blain and written by a group of 90 brilliant writers whom they assembled, illuminates our past and gives us new ways of thinking about our future.
Blood Grove by Walter Mosley
Walter Mosely is a longtime friend of Marcus Books, and Blanche acknowledges him as one of the best writers of our time. His thrillers keep you on the edge of your seat—and his most recent work, Blood Grove, is a detective mystery you’ll want to read in one sitting. Blanche points out that people love Mosley’s writing so much that they snap up his new books as soon as they arrive—and then everyone waits impatiently for his next release.
The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
For those who love short stories, Blanche highly recommends The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories. In this collection, award-winning author Danielle Evans explores how history haunts us, personally and collectively. Her stunning work reminds us that even when a well-written tale is short, the impact it has on the reader is still massive—and very important.
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
Blanche cites this as one of her very favorite novels of 2020 (as does former President Obama). Written by acclaimed author James McBride (whose landmark memoir, The Color of Water, spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list), Deacon King Kong uses humor and prose, along with the backdrop of New York City in the late 1960s, to tell a moving story.
These books can be purchased from Marcus Books in person if you’re in Oakland, or online through their website. We'll be sharing more about each book every week in February on our Instagram, and we hope you'll join the conversation with us. We’d love to hear your thoughts.