After more than 15 years as a bookseller, Angela María Spring felt worn out.
Most of the places she’d worked — especially in D.C. — were overwhelmingly white. Fed up with seeing coworkers of color be overlooked and feeling like the books she sold didn’t represent her culture, Spring quit and started her own business.
“Maybe I just need to do something for myself, because for so long, I’d just been working on other people’s visions,” Spring said. “I want to build these really beautiful, wonderful, welcoming, POC-centered spaces with other people who are doing cool things.”
Spring launched Duende District, a business focusing on books by and for people of color, in 2017. It doesn’t have a building of its own. Instead, Duende curates pop-up book displays in other stores — a concept Spring likes to think of as a bookstore without borders.
“You have in your head, ‘Oh, the goal should be a brick and mortar. The goal should be a brick and mortar.’ But I didn’t really want to do that,” they say. “I just didn’t want to have to do all the things that are required and be attached to one space.”
Currently, Duende has one D.C. area pop-up at Shopkeepers, a neighborhood retail store and cafe on Florida Avenue. The books at Shopkeepers are scattered across a shelf, next to a black-and-yellow sign describing Duende’s mission: “We make tiny bookstores for and by people of color — where all are welcome.”
Seda Nak, the founder and co-owner of Shopkeepers, met Spring years ago. The two collaborated to run virtual events, in addition to setting up the Duende pop-up at Nak’s store. Each time they connect, Nak says, their meetings and ideas feel organic.
“We’ve built a trust on what it is that we both do,” Nak says. “We never have to sit and have these long, massive conversations in which we have to weed out whether or not our collaborations and partnerships make sense to one another.”
If Nak sourced from a white-owned independent bookseller, she says she might feel like she was “supposed to be grateful” for what they gave her. Instead, Nak says the partnership with Duende means she doesn’t have to think twice about the books in Shopkeepers.
At Duende, Spring says one of her main focuses is curation. They avoid books centering on the white gaze or the oppression of people of color. Instead, Spring wants people who browse her selections to know they’re getting the best new books by Black and brown authors. They try to include as many books in Spanish as possible.
For those searching for a new read, Spring has plenty of recommendations: “An African American and Latinx History of the United States” by Paul Ortiz, “Brown Neon” by Raquel Gutiérrez and anything by local author Elizabeth Acevedo.
But the Duende team doesn’t just love to consume books. Everyone on the team, according to Duende’s D.C. partner Nicole Capó Martínez, is also a writer.
“We are all just deeply invested in the writing community and wanting to create a space that promotes writers,” Capó Martínez says. “Especially ones who might get overlooked by traditional publishers or media.”
Creating an ethical and sustainable business is still a work in progress for Spring, though, who has a tendency to give away money to support other creatives.
“I’m anti-capitalist, but we do live in a capitalist society,” they say. “And so especially for booksellers, we have — so much of our labor is considered free, and we have to take that back.”
Though Duende started here in D.C., Spring has since expanded the business. Duende supplies another pop-up in New Mexico, where Spring now lives, at Red Planet Books & Comics — the only Native comics store in the world. Duende also runs book-related events, and Spring consults on curation.
But even as Duende District spreads, Spring says the roots of the business are important.
“I’m just gonna straight-up say it: D.C. is the most artistically collaborative city,” she says. “People are like, ‘We don’t know what the hell you’re doing, but it seems cool. Let’s do something together.’”
Capó Martínez agrees. Without D.C.’s creative energy, she doesn’t think the store could exist.
For Capó Martínez, an essential part of Duende is the effort Spring puts into welcoming everyone. Spring’s goal, they say, is always to give back.
“As a person of color, I love that there is a space that’s not only welcoming but that’s built by and for us,” Capó Martínez says. “Everything that Duende does is kind of through that lens of like, ‘How can we give back to the community?’”
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