By Kayla Sosa
We Are LIT is more than just a book shop, it’s a movement within the community to bring more diverse books and reading to everyone.
The “shop” is actually online, and offers new, multicultural selections to readers of all ages.
“The inspiration for We Are LIT derived from a lifelong passion for reading, books, and travel,” said We Are LIT Owner Kendra McNeil. “As well as the recognized need for a vibrant, culturally diverse literary scene in West Michigan.”
The passion behind the shop is McNeil’s goal to make it easier for members of the Grand Rapids community to access multicultural books. The shop started as an e-commerce bookshop in 2017 and has grown to not only accommodate readers online, but across the state at various pop-up events.
Growing up, McNeil said her earliest memory of reading is age five, but she said she didn’t read a book by a black author or that featured black characters until the age of 15.
“Not because books were not available, they were, however, books written by or featuring a person of color, black or otherwise, were not. I consider that a trauma in my childhood,” McNeil said. “The marginalization of black writers in the publishing industry is an important issue within the social justice movement that deserves its own platform to be debated and solved, separate from how individuals read, enjoy, talk about, and celebrate the amazing work created by marginalized writers across all genres.”
To combat this issue for the younger generations, We Are LIT is opening access to these books to young kids, but adults as well, who may not have much of an opportunity otherwise in many bookstores.
As an entrepreneur, McNeil said the biggest lesson she’s learned so far has been to “surround yourself with the right people.” Being from Chicago, McNeil still needs more local connections to expand and support her business. She also hopes to partner with local libraries in the future, although she says the Kent District Library by her house is “LIT!”
“It is not often that I can’t find a book I am looking for and when it does happen, I don’t hesitate to use the ‘recommend a book’ feature,” McNeil said. “They are great about acquiring recommended books.”
McNeil would like to partner with libraries by hosting storytimes that feature diverse books and becoming a vendor at various author events. Of course, she hopes to one day own her own brick-and-mortar bookshop in Grand Rapids.
To get involved with We Are LIT, you can first visit their website at www.wearelitgr.com. In addition, find the bookshop at various events in the community:
- A monthly pop-up shop at the Downtown Market where the focus on books is on lifestyle: cooking, travel, gardening and other hobbies.
- Women Who Read Grand Rapids is a city-wide book club for women, hosted by We Are LIT and Life Now Talk Media. The women who make up the club come from all various backgrounds and the club’s mission is to “foster a sisterhood through reading.”
- Find or book We Are LIT for various pop-up book shops at stores around the city and reading initiatives at schools around the area.