On Saturday, Amber Collins will make one of her dreams come true—sharing her lifelong love of books with others through her new Waterloo bookstore, The Soul Book Nook. As the Courier noted, it may be the state’s first Black-owned bookstore.
Collins’s love of books started with her mom. Literally. After she’d learned to read, she was given a copy of a book her mother wrote.
“I would carry it with me and wear it out because that was my mom. I would read it over and over and over and try to emulate it, write my poetry to sound like hers,” Collins said.
Her mother is a writer, poet, “super intellectual,” and was the first person Collins ever saw perform spoken word poetry. She continued to nurture a love of books, through her own works and those of others. Some of the others were famous authors that stopped by the renowned Aquarian Book Shop in Los Angeles. Collins’s mother worked there as Alfred Ligon’s head staff person, so Collins would visit the bookstore when she stayed with her mother in the summers.
Not only did those visits nurture Collins’s love of books, it nurtured her love of bookstores.
“I like the atmosphere of a bookstore,” she said. “When you go into a bookstore, it feels like, even though you’re not reading the words yet, you’re already involved in a lot of different worlds. The books are already speaking, you just got to hear them.”
She also feels that bookstores are calming, relaxing, and peaceful.
Collins wants The Soul Book Nook to be one of those places and considered some of those qualities when she was thinking of the name.
“Soul, it had a double meaning that the soul is the seat of our emotions and our feelings,” said Collins. “So, Soul Book, meaning it’s spiritual, too. Then, the nook is a comforting place.”
In addition to ambience and, of course, books, Collins plans to offer activities. All will be COVID-19 friendly, given the times. For example, the first book club will launch on Saturday. Of those who sign up, seven can participate in-store and the rest can attend virtually.
Additionally, there will be a weekly teen night, where 7-10 teens can have the store to themselves and gather to read, discuss books, and see friends. A Halloween event is also in the works. The requirement for all events, along with general shopping, is a limited number of people in the store and the requirement of masks and social distancing at all times.
Collins is working hard to make her store all of the above, with the help and support of her five daughters and aunt. Her daughter Shalaya helps her with the business and is an artist; Mariah, who Collins calls the “Diva of them all” because of Mariah’s fashion knowledge, gives Collins advice on styles, makeup and what to wear; India, who sings classical and R&B, will give in-store performances; Lydia and Destiny are also singers, though Lydia also creates artwork and Destiny focuses more on writing music and short stories.
“Each one of them have a part to play in, you know, making this family a success,” said Collins. “The support we give one another, we take care of each other.”
She includes her Aunt Jeannette in that statement.
“She’s the matriarch of the family … She is just the powerful woman you would think of when you read books like Mildred Taylor and the Logan family, how they took care of one another.”
It is fitting that Collins, an avid reader, likened her aunt to her favorite book series that shows the strong family bonds of a Black family as they navigate Jim Crow and civil rights in the south. The series is her favorite “because, during the time of Jim Crow, they [the Logan family] were down south in Mississippi, and they were able to hold on to their land that their mother and father had bought from the previous plantation owner.” She liked that the family was educated, knew the importance of owning their own land and not being in debt, plus passed that knowledge down to their kids.
“It’s a powerful story of how we can overcome if we use our minds to help, you know, to stick together and help each other.”
It is books like these that Collins wants to offer her customers. Books by African American authors in all genres that share their stories and history.
“But there has to be a balance,” she said. “Every people should be represented in a balanced manner on our bookshelves. First, I’m an African American woman so, yes, I’m going to put out more African American books because there’s a need. If there’s a need, we have to fill it because we don’t want to lose the history of any people.”
But Collins stresses that The Soul Book Nook will offer books written by authors of other races and about their experiences.
“This is not a segregated place. We all should read about every culture and everything.”
The inclusion that Collins wants customers to feel extends beyond culture and race.
“I want people to feel welcome when they come into the store. It’s a neutral place from all anger, whatever negative feeling they’ve had. This is about books. Not ideologies. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe, you’re welcome to come in and browse the books, enjoy the books.”
The Soul Book Nook, which is believed to be the first Black-owned bookstore in Iowa, will open Saturday at 11:00 am, followed by a ribbon cutting ceremony at the farmer’s market at 12:30 pm, after which the store will close by 3:00 pm. Regular hours, during COVID-19, will be 10:00-5:30 (M-F) and 9:00-2:00 (Sat). For information on events and more, visit their Facebook page.
by Rachelle Chase
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