Black-owned bookstore owner breaks silence after being snubbed

Published: 04/23/2023, 7:36 PM

Photo Courtesy: Chris Creese

Written By: Deon Osborne

(GREENWOOD DISTRICT, Okla.) The owner of the only Black-owned bookstore in Tulsa broke her silence Thursday evening, detailing numerous authors who requested to have events at her location, only to have Penguin Random House schedule them at a traditional bookstore instead. 

Read this story on The Black Wall Street Times here.

Onika Asamoa-Caesar is owner of Fulton Street Books and Coffee in the heart of North Tulsa. Her Black-owned bookstore has partnered numerous times with Magic City Books, a non-Black-owned bookstore in the Greenwood District.  

Yet in an Instagram post on Thursday, Asamoa-Caesar broke her silence, describing numerous occasions in which authors were sent to Magic City Books despite requesting Fulton Street first.

“I think at this point, I just don’t want to be silent about what we are experiencing,” Asamoa-Caesar said. 

Black-owned Bookstore snubbed

Mathew Desmond is the Pulitzer-prize winning author of the best-seller, “Poverty by America.”

In the Instagram post, Asamoa-Caesar showed emails she sent to Penguin Random House in January and March, requesting to have Matthew Desmond speak at Fulton Street for an event to be hosted alongside community partners and local philanthropic organizations. Her emails were not returned.

Yet a few days ago, Asamoa-Caesar said she came across a post from Magic City Books promoting an event on May 24 with author Matthew Desmond, alongside the George Kaiser Family Foundation, a local philanthropic organization. Fulton Street was not included as a partner. 

“And the kicker on this is they’re [George Kaiser Family Foundation] also my employer,” she said.

Laying out receipts like a cashier, Asamoa-Caesar also detailed at least two occasions last year in which Black authors personally requested events at her location. Penguin Random House sent them to Magic City Books instead.  

On April 22, 2022, journalist and author Caleb Gayle emailed Fulton Street, requesting to launch his book at the Black-owned bookstore. 

“And we were all taken aback when that book event came out as an event with Magic City, with Fulton Street not even included as a partner,” Asamoa-Caesar said.

Black author RJ Young, who wrote “Requiem for the Massacre,” also requested to have an event at Fulton Street. The event was successfully scheduled, but on the morning of the event, Penguin Random House notified Asamoa-Caesar that his books won’t arrive until the day after the event.

“Magic City has the books in and we did not. And in this case, Magic City was nice enough to let us borrow some books so that we were not bookless for this author’s launch event,” Asamoa-Caesar said. 

Penguin Random House faces heat for leaving Fulton Street out in the cold

The Black Wall Street Times reached out to Magic City Books Friday morning for a response. In an email, Magic City Books Executive Director Jenna Akuma said they stand with Fulton Street.

“We stand with our friends at Fulton Street. They deserve the same opportunities and equitable treatment from Penguin Random House and all major publishing houses,” Akuma told The Black Wall Street Times. “We do not want to be the beneficiary of our bookseller colleagues being overlooked. We will work together to ensure fairness and accountability are achieved.”

It’s unclear why Magic City Books came out with a statement in support of Fulton Street only after Asamoa-Caesar posted about the issue on Instagram. It’s also unclear whether Magic City Books plans to partner with Fulton Street on the May 24 event with author Matthew Desmond.

The release of Fulton Street’s receipts come in a country where Republicans and conservative parents have forced communities to ban books by and about Black people. 

In fact, one district in Texas considered closing down its public libraries after a federal judge ordered them to returned 17 banned books back to the shelves.

“I became a book seller because I believe in representation,” Asamoa-Caesar said. Her bookstore has partnered with high-profile Black leaders from Georgia’s Stacey Abrams to Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

She recently opened a second location in the Tulsa International Airport. 

“I believe that everyone should be able to walk into a bookstore and see themselves reflected on the shelves,” Asamoa-Caesar said. “What I did not expect to find behind the curtain was this.” 


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