The Best Book Club You’ll Ever Join: The Free Black Women’s Library Places Us Front and Center

@thefreeblackwomenslibrary via Instagram screenshot/Ola Ronke
@thefreeblackwomenslibrary via Instagram screenshot/Ola Ronke

It’s the weekend, and all I want to do is curl up with a good book and be transported to another realm. Instead, I’m curled up with my laptop this fine Saturday afternoon, editing and writing blogs for The Glow Up.


But there’s definite gratification in writing about an amazing project like the Free Black Women’s Library, a growing collection of books written by black women and collected and curated by artist, librarian and avowed book lover Ola Ronke.

Ronke started the project after becoming involved with the #SayHerName movement in response to a spate of stories about state-sanctioned violence that harmed and killed black women.


“I was kind of like, ‘OK, I want to be a part of something where black women are centered and where black women are the focus. But it’s not tragic, and it’s not pathological, and it doesn’t feel disempowering or discouraging. ... You know, we can talk about us black women as writers and artists and filmmakers and creatives and all these different things,’” Ronke told The Glow Up.

“So, at the same time, we can also have conversations about this violence and about these issues ... but within these conversations will be more of a position of power,” she continued. “We won’t feel victimized or objectified or like a stereotype, but more like witches and healers and conjurers and problem-solvers and scientists and doctors ... just kind of, like, shifting energy around the conversation that takes place where black women are the focus.”

The result was a mobile library of black female-centric books, where participants are encouraged to give one and take one, all in an effort to advance black female narratives.

“It was my love of books and my wanting to connect with people around black women, but in a way that felt like a celebration or an honoring or an affirming,” Ronke noted.


Since launching three years ago, the library has grown to approximately 900 books. It was initially primarily based on donations but is now moving into sponsorships and collaborations. It’s even launched a Reading Challenge for 2018 and a reading group, which you can join here:


This Sunday, Jan. 28, Ronke and the Free Black Women’s Library will help launch MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora, a crowdfunded photography book celebrating various iterations of black womanhood. The project clearly reflects the mission Ronke has begun with her library.

“We are celebrating the release of the gorgeous new photography book MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora,” she says. “This stunning work of art features the work of 118 black women photographers from all over the world. The brilliant women behind this work are Laylah Amatullah Barrayn and Adama Delphine Fawundu, founding co-editors-in-chief, and Crystal Whaley, deputy editor.”


For Ronke, both the library and events like these are a necessary next step in expanding the exposure and understanding of black womanhood.


“Black women are variable and expansive—and, like, different—and there’s really no way to categorize that. Because under the umbrella of black women, we could have a black trans person, or you could have a black person who wears a weave or locs or has a low cut or is skinny or in a wheelchair, you know? And we also have stay-at-home moms and the Wall Street executive. ... There [are] just so many ways to be a black woman.”

She adds, “So, that was part of it, too: just pushing back against this idea that there’s one type of black woman. We’re not a monolith; we’re just, like, so varied. And we can be whatever it is that we want; and that, in and of itself, is awesome.”


The Glow Up tip: You can support the Free Black Women’s Library by donating to its Crowdrise account below. If you’re in the New York City area this weekend, come celebrate the release of Mfon: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora at a Jan. 28 release event from noon to 5 p.m. at 521 Halsey St., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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So cool. When I read books written by African American women I feel a sense of belonging, understanding (Oh yeah, that happened to her too), and wonder. I remember how strong, intelligent, beautiful, insightful, and how our good stuff runneths over. Thank you Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Adama Delphine Fawundu, and Crystal Whaley. You are doing some very important work.