When Aarie Wade realized that her family was the only one contributing Black literature to her local Little Free Library, she got inspired.
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — Small wooden boxes filled with free books have been popping up all over the country for years now. They offer passers by a chance to take a book with only one request: drop a book off.
Aarie Wade says she and her family frequented a Little Free Library in her neighborhood, but noticed that the kinds of books her children left behind were never available again in the future. She wanted her children to have access to a book exchange that had more books that reflected their Black experiences and were told by Black voices.
“The first book I fell in love with was The Coldest Winter Ever [by Sister Souljah]. I was the same age as Winter and I just fell in love from there,” she tells The ‘Gander.
The cult classic was released in 1999 when Wade was an impressionable teenager. It connected her to urban culture outside of Michigan with its New York setting, and excited her about literature. She passed her appreciation for Black voices and literature to her own children, but realized that other people in the area needed access to similar stories.
“Anything my kids left at that other book house never came back home,” she says. “And our stories are valuable. They’re not going to get a lot of stories like that without our contributions.”
So Wade decided to change the literary landscape throughout Grand Rapids. She received a grant from the Grand Rapids Neighborhood Match Fund and began sourcing materials to build her own book houses. She calls them Black Book Exchange Boxes. They work similarly to Little Free Libraries but feature Black literature for readers of all ages.
Thanks to the city’s grant, Wade was able to pay local youth for constructing the boxes and artist E’lla Luster Webber for creating the unique artwork on each box.
Wade has already been overwhelmed by requests for Black Book Exchange Boxes across the country. The coronavirus outbreak has slowed production, but she hopes to see more soon in Grand Rapids and beyond.
“People as far as New York are asking for them,” she says.
It may take a little longer to see more BBEBs but Wade is still working and will even install a box dedicated to LatinX literature in a local neighborhood soon. Businesses interested in sponsoring boxes can reach out through Facebook.