This post was originally published on Seattle Medium

By Emily Riehl

An average, rainy afternoon in Seattle does not take away from the exciting social change that happens inside Estelita’s Library.

Founded in 2018, it is a library focused on social justice literature, ethnic studies, and liberation movements. Co-owners Edwin Lindo and Estell Williams created it to provide an intentional space for the community to learn about their cultures through literature, and feel empowered in bringing about social change through knowledge. People are invited to read in the library or borrow books.

Lindo says the library was modeled after community gathering places in Nicaragua, where his dad is from. In these locations, people gather to socialize and explore ideas. 

Estelita’s hosts community book talks, classes, meetings, and history lessons that, when paired with their collection of over 1,500 books and Black Panther Party newspapers, provide many topics to inspire conversation.

“What tends to happen in these spaces is people critique,” says Lindo. “And they question and they say, ‘Is that how it needs to be? Can it be better, can it be different?’ That’s what we’re trying to explore is how do we create a space for people to build the muscle of critical consciousness.”

Another inspiration for Estelita’s Library is Lindo and Williams’ daughter Estella, who was 4 years old when the library opened. They built the library to show her the joy that comes from being in community with others, and from learning about the history of Black Power and revolution that she comes from.

“It’s important for us, and for her to be proud of it. And that it doesn’t come as a surprise as she gets older, but it’s part of who she is, as she’s growing up,” Lindo says.

Jeffrey Cheatham, author and founder of the Seattle Urban Book Expo, worked with Lindo when Estelita’s was first opening and says cultural spaces like Estelita’s are important because of the history they hold.

“It needs to be here because of the authenticity of the stories they are sharing with people. It’s like true history, not only of the world, but also Seattle itself,” says Cheatham. “What Estelita’s is doing is monumental because they are focusing on brutal honesty pieces of literature that people can read and get truth without any corporate involvement.”

Posted on Estelita’s doors are QR codes that when scanned provide lists of books recommended by staff and volunteers of Estelita’s. Some of Edwin Lindo’s favorites are books written by author James Baldwin, and A Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. (Photo by Emily Riehl)

Estelita’s is also a part of the Seattle City of Literature, a nonprofit organization that manages the city literature designation on behalf of the City of Seattle. Estelita’s is one of the hundreds of Seattle writing communities that can be found through the Seattle City of Literature’s Community Catalog.

Stesha Brandon, the Seattle City of Literature program manager, says the point of the designation is to work with creative industries to help drive social change, and to dismantle systems that uphold white supremacy.

“All of our programs start with something called community listening, where if we have an idea for a program, or we’re hearing from the community that there is interest, we create an opportunity for the community to provide feedback about what they’d like the program to look like,” says Brandon.

The Seattle City of Literature is about to host the last in a series of entrepreneurship workshops for BIPOC people interested in starting literary-related businesses. Lindo participated in the workshop in October, speaking on a panel about booksellers as entrepreneurs and how to start a business.

“Our whole thing is, how do we share what many people see as secrets and expose them?” says Lindo. “A big component of our work is to support self-determination. When folks want to start a business, if they have an idea, we’re always there to help them in any way we can.”

Similarly, Cheatham started the Seattle Urban Book Expo to help people learn how to self-publish and provide them with a promotional service to do so. The organization hosts workshops, book fairs and writing events.

“What I tried to do is help people overcome their fears when it comes to writing and self-publishing,” says Cheatham. “We create authors, we cultivate their skills, and we connect them with readers and like-minded individuals.”

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is the larger organization that selected Seattle to be a City of Literature after a rigorous application process. They considered the diversity and range of publishing in Seattle, and the number of bookstores and writers in order to select Seattle  as a City of Literature.

Seattle is one of 42 cities of literature around the world, including Vilnius, Lithuania; Gothenburg, Sweden; and Jakarta, Indonesia.

“Being a part of the network is actually a call to action,” says Brandon. “It means we’re prepared to invest time and energy in helping drive social change through the literary arts.”

Supporting libraries like Estelita’s can inspire real change in the community. With proceeds from Estelita’s online bookstore, Lindo says they have given out scholarships, provided stipends to people who struggled during COVID, and sent books to people in prison.

“It’s in these spaces that our next generation of leaders, organizers, and community are going to come out of,” says Lindo. “It’s these spaces that actually become the staple and centerpieces and institutions of the communities that we say we love.”

Estelita’s Library is open Wednesday to Saturday from 1:00 p.m. to  6:00 pm.

The post A Little Library In Seattle Offers A Space For Big Social Change appeared first on The Seattle Medium.