Move over Barnes and Rubble, there’s a new bookstore in the heart of Lansing, Michigan. Meet Nyshell Lawrence, a Lansing local who prefers romantic strolls down the bookstore aisles to most other date night options. One night in particular while out browsing with her husband in 2017, Lawrence found her excitement waning as she sifted through the selections of countless titles authored by non Black writers.
Leaving purchase-less, she soon decided to take the matter into her own hands.
“We spent the rest of the evening talking about how we could create something that would be for Black women that would celebrate us,” Lawrence shared with The Lansing State Journal. “That’s where the idea and the concept of Socialight Society came from and came about.”
“Socialight Society is a community-centered creative space that specifically caters to Black women who often lack representation in traditional bookstores.” The website describes.
The organization set out to celebrate Black women and Black literature through local events and a virtual book club, with a monthly selection by a Black woman author. The selections range from classic to contemporary, and are chosen from a list specially curated by Lawrence herself. She enjoyed curating these reading lists so much that she eventually began buying books to sell from Bookshop.org, a website that provides independent booksellers access to inventory at wholesale prices.
Finding space for new book business at pop up events such as those held at the Social Sloth Cafe, the AfterGlow Market, and the Lansing Mall, Socialight Society quickly expanded from an intimate book club, to a full blown retail operation.
And as of this weekend, Lawrence is proud to announce that her Black lit microshop has found a permanent home at Soul Nutrition, a tea and smoothie shop located in downtown Lansing. On Saturday, November 13th, Socialight Society will host a VIP only reception to honor the opening. Open hours thereafter will be from 9am to 1pm Monday through Friday, and 10am to 7pm on Saturdays.
A well known quote by Black American novelist Toni Morrison reads, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” Inspired by the words of Morrison, Lawrence captions a recent post on the shop’s Instagram page with the following statement. “Socialight Society is the bookshop I’ve never seen before, so I’m creating it.”
With the help of nonprofit Dreams and Visions Manifested, founded by Kim Milton-Mackey, Socialight Society has been able to raise several thousand dollars in funding for the brick-and-mortar location. While this weekend’s reception and subsequent public hours will still be carried out as planned, the shop is still approximately $4,000 shy of its $10,000 goal, and donations are still being accepted.
Lawrence hopes to provide literary representation not only for the Black authors we know and love, but for local Lansing writers as well, as she plans to seek them out, and make space for them on her shelves. Socialight Society focuses the literary lens on Black books in a landscape that once was lacking, but is now replete with possibility.