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A Spotlight On Chicago’s Only Black Woman-Owned Bookstore

Colby Smith Colby Smith

A Spotlight On Chicago’s Only Black Woman-Owned Bookstore

Get an inside look into Semicolon: the bookstore and gallery space that is changing the narrative.

On May 23, Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery store held a #ClearTheShelves book giveaway for CPS students. The event, orchestrated by owner DL Mullen, curated 500 bags of new “life changing” books that were categorized by grade and theme, which included pens and Post-It notes.

“We are just really trying to expand the minds of all kids, of all ages, of all races, of all backgrounds,” Mullen told Chicago Tribune. “It’s statistically proven that families that are on the lower end of the financial spectrum don’t have many books in the house or don’t have any books in the home at all. At the very least, we can provide some books in the home… and that’s a start.”

The giveaway was no rarity for Semicolon, which has donated over $8,500 books to Chicago Public Schools since it opened last year.

Mullen’s initial idea for her business was to open a grand establishment that would constitute “the ULTIMATE bookstore experience. A plush library feel, a restaurant, and cigar lounge, and-of-course-THOUSANDS of books.”

But due to the series of hoops, jumps, and other obstacles, Mullen decided to put those ideas to rest and just do it; within a day, Mullen “found a space, signed a lease, and got the keys.”

“Somehow, it’s worked and will continue working thanks to your unwavering support. I am grateful for the little community we’ve built in our space in West Town,” Mullen wrote on the webpage.

“I am grateful for the authors and artists who continue to make our space outstanding and the genuine love that pours in from visitors of all backgrounds.”

Since opening the bookstore last year, Mullen has worked on crafting Semicolon into more than a simple bookstore; into a library, a museum, an art gallery, a force in the community.

As such, Semicolon regularly features a wide-variety of self-published books from local and independent authors.

We are proud to support local authors, especially minorities (women, p.o.c., LGBTQ+), through our consignment program, which will allow us to carry and feature a much wider variety of self-published and print-on-demand titles than we could through traditional purchasing. We have created shelf space specifically for local and independent authors.”

In addition to local authors, the store showcases the work of emerging artists in the community in their gallery.

“Our gallery space was created to house artists of color whose work catalyze dialogues and stirs the soul. Our two-month artist residency was developed to give local emerging visual artists the opportunity to exhibit their work, engage with the community, and grow their audience,” the page reads.

In March, Semicolon had to close their doors in observance of the state’s stay-at-home order. In the meantime, the store continued to serve the community by donating books to children in CPS schools.

“Semicolon was created with one thing in mind: community,” the store wrote in a post on Instagram.

Their online store remain open since for readers to order books for delivery, and later on, opened up for curbside pickup.

Yesterday, Semicolon reopened for a “trial reopening” which, according to their Instagram update:

“Our receipt printer wouldn’t work. We pretty much ran out of books. Seriously. But at the same time, we felt incredibly loved and supported. We gave out lunches and books to students. We laughed soooo much and really just enjoyed having y’all back!⁣”

Semicolon will remain closed until Saturday to the greater public, but will leave its doors open for CPS students. The bookstore will reopen on Saturday at noon with freshly-stocked shelves.

“Action is the ONLY catalyst for change,” Mullen writes. “We’ll never be completely ready, but getting to the other side of our dreams, our plans, and ourselves cannot be accomplished without taking that first step forward. Let’s continue to support the magic, the finesse, and the audacity of Black women in all their glory.”

[Featured image via semicolonchi.com]