New hub for black books opens in downtown Lansing smoothie store

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Nyshell Lawrence read his first book by a black author in second grade: “Roots” by Alex Haley.

“Something intrigued me and I wanted to take it home,” she said. “I know that in second year I couldn’t understand all the complex things that happened in history, but the idea that I had written this huge book about black people was major to me.”

But growing up, she struggled to find books on black culture that didn’t focus on pain, slavery or other trauma, she said.

On one date in 2017 at a bookstore with her husband, the couple walked away empty-handed, unable to find any books containing the natural inclusion of blacks. She said the selection of black women’s books was particularly dismal.

“We spent the rest of the evening discussing how we could create something that would be for black women and that would celebrate us,” Lawrence said. “This is where the idea and concept of Socialight Society came from and was born.”

A selection of children's books written by black authors at the Socialight Society on Wednesday, November 3, 2021, at Soul Nutrition in downtown Lansing.  Nyshell Lawrence opens the store where black women can read and discuss black literature together.

And Lawrence began to gather friends and peers for a book club. She herself curated the reading list – all black women’s books – which the group met online to discuss.

As his club grew over the summer, Lawrence began shopping through Bookshop.org, an online retailer that supports independent booksellers. She sold books in pop-up shops at Afterglow Market, Social Sloth Café, and Lansing Mall.

Now, she’s opening a space inside Soul Nutrition, a smoothie and tea store at 222 S. Washington Square in downtown Lansing.

It will host an RSVP grand opening from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on November 13, then open full-time from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Lawrence organizes the books she sells from her personal collections and makes recommendations to book club members.

“Socialight Society really makes sure that women, especially black women, feel seen and celebrated,” Lawrence said.

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Nyshell Lawrence speaks about the Socialight Society on Wednesday, November 3, 2021 at Soul Nutrition in downtown Lansing.  Lawrence opens the Socialight Society bookstore where black women can read and share black literature with each other.

Lawrence’s boutique isn’t the only store in a store, or “microshop,” new to downtown Lansing. Just down the street is A Novel Concept, another new and used book store at Middle Village Micro Market, a pop-up from the non-profit Downtown Lansing Inc.

The two microshops are a “testament to the environment” of the downtown district, said DLI Executive Director Cathleen Edgerly. The store-within-store concept allows retail-oriented entrepreneurs to build customer base while managing low overhead costs.

“People are asking for a downtown bookstore, and as the downtown area continues to evolve, it meets those needs,” she said. “It gives them entertainment and a literary outlet.”

Kim Milton-Mackey runs Dreams and Visions Manifested, a nonprofit sponsor of the Socialight Society. She helped Lawrence book space at Afterglow Market and Soul Nutrition this year, and is working to raise $ 10,000 for a brick and mortar store. Lawrence also collaborates with Lost Girl Vision and UR Blends Tea for the store.

A selection of books written by black authors at the Socialight Society on Wednesday, November 3, 2021, at Soul Nutrition in downtown Lansing.  Nyshell Lawrence opens the Socialight Society Bookstore where black women can read and share black literature together.

“We have done a lot of work with regard to people of African American descent who do not have the reflection in their stories and in schools,” she said. “If you were to buy a book, you would probably have to go to Amazon or somewhere else. Having a space in the community where you can read and share books with others is empowering.”

Milton-Mackey also said the store fills the need for additional library-like space in the downtown area. She remembered her own visits to the library at a young age – getting excited after reading a headline – and hopes Lawrence’s Bookstore provides that experience for young people today.

To this end, Socialight Society intentionally targets all age groups. Lawrence offers titles ranging from children’s books to novels and classics for young adults. The books rotate according to the season and current events.

Nyshell Lawrence speaks about the Socialight Society on Wednesday, November 3, 2021 at Soul Nutrition in downtown Lansing.  Lawrence opens the Socialight Society bookstore where black women can read and share black literature with each other.

“Sometimes you just don’t know these (titles) exist,” she said. “Maybe we don’t know that there is a black author who has written on this particular topic. This space makes it visible to everyone.”

Edgerly said Lawrence’s plan to stockpile books by locals gives these writers a place to be recognized in their community, especially in the state capital, where workers often flood the downtown area for lunch. .

“It is now a meeting place where individuals can have commonalities and a place where there is no tension or anger,” Milton-Mackey said. “It’s a space that people can come in and reflects them.”

Contact reporter Krystal Nurse at (517) 267-1344 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse.


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