Black-owned Austin bookstore fights against banned books with new nonprofit

Right now in Texas, there are 713 book bans in 16 districts across the state including in Central Texas at Fredericksburg and Leander ISDs, according to Pen America

There’s been much debate on which books should or should not be allowed, but for the owners of Black Pearl Books, it’s simple. They’re making them available to buy in their new storefront on Burnet Road. 

The small Black-owned company has come a long way since they started in their garage in 2020

"We started in the garage, in our home," Katrina Brooks, founder and owner of Black Pearl Books says in between her first customers of the day. "[We were] filling online orders in the middle of a pandemic and we've just continued to grow in the midst of all of that."

They grew so big this is their second location. It’s a cozy little book store in an old house-turned business. Their iconic bright red door greets curious book lovers ready to dive into reading. 

This Friday morning is not only spent on books, they’re busy getting ready for a big event partnering their new nonprofit, "Put it in a Book" with the 100 Black Men of Austin for a back-to-school book giveaway

"I jumped out of the corporate world, she convinced me to go and work shoulder to shoulder with her, so for the last two years, I started September 2020, so we're almost 2 full years in we've been really focusing on growing the business and helping to build the community through literature," Eric Brooks, Katrina’s husband says. 

The pair aren’t only helping with back-to-school events, they’re focused on challenging book bans that in some places include titles like "To Kill a Mockingbird", "All Boys Aren’t Blue" and "Ruby Bridges: This is Your Time."

"We know there's a push to really remove these titles from schools as well with some public libraries and we wanna make sure that readers have the ability to get in and have exposure to different stories," Eric Brooks says as he stocks and organizes the banned book section of Black Pearl Books.

"We have a book club, a banned and challenged book club that means monthly," Katrina explains. This month’s Black Pearl Redacted Reads book pick is "House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros. The pair say "The House on Mango Street" is banned and challenged for discussing racism, depicting violence, and containing mature content.

"It's not just about how many books we can sell off our shelves, you know? It truly is about what we're able to reinvest," Katrina Brooks says. "It just goes back to accessibility, I always want to make sure books are accessible regardless of income levels, socio-economic status, where you live."

As customers walk in, it’s clear the bookstore is more than just a shop, it’s a community hub to make people feel welcome regardless of their background. 

Every corner of the shop is created with intention, from the bookmarks sold by small business owners, to the book community exchange, to the nonprofit name, "Put it in a Book."

"Blacks weren't allowed to read, so the saying would go, 'if you wanna hide something from a Black person, ‘put it in a book’," Katrina explains. "It's this connotation that Black people don't read and so I'm taking that and flipping it and making it known that we do read! Not only do we read, we write our stories, we have stories to share." 

The goal of the nonprofit is to continue expanding, currently raising funds to extend their Redacted Reads Book Club into local schools throughout Austin to provide free banned and challenged books, they say, to help encourage freedom of thought and critical thinking skills.

"It's a tribute almost to ancestors and I'm tearing up because like it's a tribute to ancestors," Katrina Brooks says fighting back tears inside her new bookstore that started in her two-car garage. "It’s also, I'm hoping, a motivation for younger generations to understand where that comes from and [that they] know that their stories matter, their stories count. Yes we do read! And yes, we do write and yes, we do have stories to share, so yes, let's put it in a book. Let's put our stories in a book."

Their shop is tucked behind two huge oak trees, as they continue growing their space they say was founded on the principle of love and the right to read. 

If you're interested in learning more about the nonprofit or shopping for their books, visit their website here