There are certain spaces that exude warmth and draw you in with its welcome.
The closest space I have to this, in New York City, is at Cafe con Libros in Crown Heights.
Sure, it exists for book lovers and coffee aficionados (or both!) but since its opening, the cafe and feminist bookstore–centered around global works by self-identifying women–have evolved beyond the nouns that comprise the establishment’s name.
The owner, Kalima DeSuze, opened Cafe con Libros in the same neighborhood in which she attended primary school and has been intentional in crafting a community space. From housing local artists’ work on their walls, to hosting workshops as well as public events, Cafe con Libros focuses on learning, building authentic relationships and nurturing critical conversations that challenge pre-existing narratives. It is truly a place that allows you to come as you are and invites you to stay.
Continue on as Kalima discusses Black Feminism, the importance of claiming space and how she’s relishing small joys.
What was the inspiration behind Cafe con Libros and when did you officially open?
I opened in December 2017 and the inspiration behind it is a long story…but, a couple of fundamental things: I believe that women should always have multiple sources of income and that women should do, if possible, something that’s near and dear to their heart, that brings them joy. Sometimes our paid job is not able to do that for us and it is important for us to create our own sense of joy. I think this is more important and urgent for women of color, specifically Black women. Black Feminism has played a major role in my life. I wanted to create a space to give back to the community that has given me so much and to expose young girls to all the Black Feminist literature; the stories are about the great things that women do in general…
How did your interest in Black Feminism begin? Was it instilled in you growing up? Was it a facet of your research in Grad School?
Without having the term “Black Feminism,” I was exposed to it early on as a child. My Mom had Jet magazine, Ebony and Essence in the house, so it is all that I knew. I read the white identified books at school, but at home it was a lot of Black literature–books for kids but more so, I would flip through those magazines all the time.
In an age where books can be accessed digitally, why was it important to you to create a brick-and-mortar space?
I wanted the physical space to serve as a community space. I think it’s really important that young girls and women of color can come into a space and in front of them, see all the books that represent all the things that women go through and all stories about women. I don’t think that those spaces exist in totality as they should. We go into a bookstore and there’s a mix of different types of books—which is great for the majority written by men—but just to walk into a store and have all the faces on the covers be girls or women’s names is, to me, extraordinary.
Do you have a favorite book? Or one that you find yourself constantly referring back to or suggesting to other women?
I would say that my favorite book is, hands down, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison*. I always recommend that particular book, as well as Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
*Editor’s Note: We learned this morning of the passing of Toni Morrison. She was a magnificent force in the literary world, a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winner, and an inspiration to many. We, like Kalima, urge you to read her work. May she rest in peace.
As an endlessly busy social worker, business owner and a Mom—that just so happens to live and work in New York City—how are you living slowly and intentionally? Are you finding moments for yourself?
I spend a lot of time thinking, reading and writing. All of these really ground me and allow me to at least think about a thought, feel a feeling–to, ultimately, create a space for that. Reading allows me to really think about other people and other instances that I personally haven’t gone through. Whatever it is that I’m reading can influence how I see the world, then writing it down and processing through my journal. That’s the only way I get to slow down on some level.
Everyday, I try to be grateful–I write in a gratitude journal and think about the ways in which things are conspiring on my behalf. Owning a business can be very, very difficult and I can be all in my feelings about it because I’m so tired *laughs*. But, is very important to sit and think “yeah things are going bad, but here are five good things to counter this one bad thing.”
Also, not answering emails and being okay with it! When I leave work on the weekends, I don’t check my work email unless I know that I’m behind and I can take five minutes while I’m on the train to answer a few emails. Otherwise, I don’t check it because I need to have some type of boundary in my life. Just doing small things like that…but also, eating right and drinking a lot of water.
What is bringing you the most joy right now, in this season?
Two things: the work that I’m doing with the Cafe in terms of generating content—the podcast, the blog and our community bookstore meetings—really brings me joy.
The other thing is just being up and going! Everyday is a challenge, there’s a new thing that Kaleb’s doing that allows me to enter into a new space in my own feelings because I had no idea what it meant to care for a baby human and to be completely responsible for him. So, even the moments when I feel overwhelmed are a new awakening.
Even more so, it’s the way that I’m showing up to life, really courageously. Meeting all of my challenges head first and not being afraid… just sitting with all that I’m feeling. To live life on my own terms and to have options brings me joy.
Cafe con Libros is in Crown Heights located at: 724 Prospect Pl, Brooklyn, New York. You can learn more about the feminist bookstore and coffee shop here, following along on Instagram and attend an upcoming workshop, reading or fireside chat with their Resident Literary Curator, Nicole Shawan Junior.
By Storm Monteiro Tyler