Jessica Littles
Oct, 03, 2017

Author Ta-Nehesi Coates will head to two Black-owned bookstores, Sankofa Video and Books in Washington D.C. and Eso Won Books in Los Angeles, to launch his third book We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. Sankofa will host the D.C. book launch at the Metropolitan AME Church on Monday, October 9 and Eso Won will host in L.A. at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre on November 6.

As a national best-selling author and one of the most regarded voices on race relations, Coates’ decision to go to independent Black bookstores, is indicative of a larger movement of Black creatives making an effort to stay connected to Black-owned businesses and creative spaces that can keep them in touch with their core audience.

“We offer authors an intimate space to talk to the people that their books may be about,” Shirikiana Gerima told ESSENCE. "It’s small enough in there where you can see people’s eyes, if you’re presenting your work. The feedback is immediate. It’s a great space for authors who want to have an audience that will engage with them. That’s worked with Ta-Nehesi. He came for his first book and now he’s back."

Gerima founded Sankofa in 1998 with her husband and acclaimed filmmaker, Haile Gerima. The space has served as the premiere Black bookstore in D.C. specializing in literature about people of African descent for the past two decades. As filmmakers known for the international masterpiece Sankofa and an upcoming documentary entitled Footprints of Pan-Africanism, the Gerimas originally bought the building as a space to produce their films, outside of the Hollywood wheel.

“I think most of the time filmmakers think that we don’t have the right to carve out something else [outside of Hollywood], but if we look ourselves as a righteous entity on the planet, [we realize] this is our world too. I’m not just passing through. So I have a lot to say that has nothing to do with Hollywood.”

They carried that same entrepreneurial approach from filmmaking to Sankofa, carving out a unique space among larger bookstores and online retailers that may have a wider reach. 

“When you are marginalized, you find yourself on the other side of that wall of exclusion, but there are a lot of things you can do on the other side of that wall. So… we have a lot of do.” Gerima said. “I often feel sorry for larger [Black authors] who are out there and they only get to talk to large White audiences. I can’t imagine what that does to one’s spirit. I see Sankofa as a place that artists and authors think of when they want to feel like they’re at home.”

That feeling of home is part of Sankofa’s connection to Coates, who grew up in Baltimore, attended Howard University and had a father who was in the publishing world.

In a press statement Coates said: "I grew up surrounded by Black books, reared by a father who spent much of his adult life either running a bookstore or a publishing company. I was made, as a writer and as a human, by Black books. Those bookstores that specialize in this literature are sacred.”

'We Were Eight Years in Power' is Coates’ third book, a collection of eight essays that revisit each year of the Obama administration. Through personal narrative, he tracks the impact of white supremacy on the Black community and the nation.

“He’s a critical voice in pointing to social contradictions,” Gerima said. "He’s doing what writers should do, which is point out things that are broken so that we can start to break the illusion."

“He’s pecking away at their illusion of us and their illusion of themselves, which is worse. He’s a really important voice. And I encourage him to keep on having the guts to keep that voice fresh.”