STORIES FOR ALL by Amanda Clark for GRID Magazine, November 2020
Lynn Washington has spent most of her life encouraging people to read. As a graphic designer, she worked for the Free Library of Philadelphia, creating graphics and exhibits that would attract new audiences. As a mother, she read books to her children to excite in them a passion for learning. And now, as the owner of her own bookstore “Books & Stuff,” Washington promotes and celebrates the power of reading stories of all races, cultures, and people.
Her journey into entrepreneurship began when she was working as the Design Supervisor at the Free Library. Washington found herself face to face with the literacy crisis right outside the library’s doors, and knew it was a huge problem for the community. “Illiteracy traps people in a cycle of poverty,” says Washington. “It limits your life choices. It's difficult to achieve social mobility, to move up in your life.” Washington knew that part of the problem of illiteracy and children reading below grade level was a lack of book ownership.“Libraries are important but the other important thing is children having their own books, their own reading material,” says Washington.
She began selling books in her spare time, primarily at local flea markets. Doing so, her goal was to get books into the hands of families who couldn’t afford to buy them from major bookstores. By offering books at cheaper prices, Washington hoped to bring the power of literacy to people of all races and economic backgrounds.
In 2015, Washington opened her own store Books & Stuff in Germantown. Books & Stuff celebrates literacy and diversity by selling books of all reading levels at cheaper prices. As a multicultural and primarily Afrocentric bookstore, Books & Stuff gives all children and adults characters and stories with whom they can identify.
“I always felt like it was necessary and important that Black children saw their faces in their reading material,” says Washington. At a major bookstore, however, it can difficult to find stories depicting non-white people, stories that Black children can see themselves in. In her store, Black children often expressed excitement when they saw characters who resemble themselves, says Washington.
Washington’s goal to fight illiteracy and low literacy levels is two pronged—books must be telling stories of all people and must be available to all people. Because she purchases from smaller companies and buys overstock inventory, she is often able to price her books at cheaper than major bookstores partnering with publishers.
During Covid-19, Washington has packed up shop and moved online. Though this huge disappointment meant that community partnership and interaction were put on pause, exciting new things have come out of the online store.
One such opportunity is the creation of the “Surprise Packages” that the store now offers, she says. For just $15, $25, or $30, Washington will create a personalized gift package for customers, whether child, teen, or adult. Gift packages include at least one book and items from the store’s eclectic collection. Washington hopes that these packages and the gifts included will give customers the feeling of walking into her store and excitedly exploring the words of many races, cultures, and people.