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Online bookstore started with hopes to elevate Black authors, open Memphis storefront

Cafe Noir is an online book store that sells books by Black, PoC, and LGBTQ+ authors.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Langston Hughes: They're all well-known Black authors but one Memphis graduate student is working to make it easier for readers to discover more Black authors.

"My grandmother was always reading books to me whether it was Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, even Shakespeare," Jasmine Settles says.

If it wasn't for her grandmother, Settles may not be on the path she's on now. From a young age, she was introduced to Black authors, authors that weren't introduced to her otherwise in school. 

Today, Settles is a graduate student at the University of Memphis where she studies literature and African-American lit. 

Now in her last semester, she started Cafe Noir, an online bookstore, that sells books written by Black, People of Color and LGBTQ+ authors.

”Once I started to take more courses and learn of these different stories and authors that I haven’t heard, some I’ve heard, I was like, "Wow, I have to share these with everyone I meet and everyone I know," so they can have the same experience and love for Black literature that I do," Settles said.

It wasn't until taking elective courses that Settles was exposed to even more Black authors, which inspired her to open Cafe Noir.

“It kind of started as a question of why not?," she said. "I think there’s so many voices that have been marginalized and silenced and pushed to the side as “electives” and I think these voices deserve a platform.”

On the Cafe Noir website, book enthusiasts can find books from the likes of Morrison and Walker but modern authors such as Rivers Solomon, Jesmyn Ward and Zadie Smith.

“I think when we hear these stories from various authors it kind of gives us this audacity to say, "Well, you’re shining your light, I can do it too'," Settles said. "It kind of pushes us to be and live in our full abundance and that's what these stories have done for me personally and that's why I will always say literature is so life changing."

Settles has set her sight on opening a physical space for Cafe Noir this summer, where on top of being dedicated to sharing the works of a diverse group of authors it would also be the first bookstore of its kind.

"The ideal behind Cafe Noir is to be a home for not only these authors that are even on the shelf behind me but a home for people to come to enjoy a great book but it’s more so an entire experience," she said.

To support that effort, people can donate here.

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