We spoke with Black entrepreneur Dr. Trenessa Williams, owner of the online bookstore Kizzy’s Books & More, to discuss African American literature and her upcoming library event as we honor Juneteenth.
Join Dr. Williams for the virtual event Working with Bookstores as an Author on Thursday, June 16, 7 p.m. Learn how to get your books into bookstores and how to approach them about hosting an author event. Dr. Williams will also answer authors’ questions about bookstores.
Q: How did you begin your path to entrepreneurship?
A: My path to entrepreneurship wasn’t expected, but entrepreneurship is something that I think is part of my family history. My dad owned a car wash for many years while working full-time. His parents owned stores, and I had other family members that were entrepreneurs. I saw what entrepreneurship was like from that perspective. In 2008, I got the idea for Kizzy’s. I went to visit a local, African American-owned bookstore that was here – Montsho Books. When I went there, it was not open anymore. I thought, “Well, since there’s not one here, I want to own one.” That led me on the journey to learn about owning a bookstore. I knew I had a lack of knowledge, so I bought a book about owning in a bookstore. I learned about the American Booksellers Association, which offered a provisional membership where you could join without owning a bookstore and attended a few conferences that were hosted for independent booksellers. I was able to connect and learn, finally opening a bookstore online in 2018.
Q: What ignited your passion for African American literature?
A: When I was a child, my parents enrolled me into an all-Black private school, and they exposed us to different things that related to our African American experience and the culture, including plays. They exposed us to the arts by going to art parties that showcased Black art where you could purchase art at the party. What really got me to enjoy African American literature was poetry. That’s when I learned about Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and other authors who wrote about the African American experience. Poems that ignited my passion for Black literature were: We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar and Ego Trippin by Nikki Giovanni. When I was younger, I remember sneaking and reading For Colored Girls by Ntozake Shange. By reading books, especially books that dealt with the African American experience, I was able to relate because it told our story and it brought light to our experience.
Q: What are you currently reading?
A: I just started reading Seen and Unseen: Technology, Social Media, and the Fight for Racial Justice by Marc Lamont Hill. I’m just at the early stages of it, but it talks about how social media helped with the fight for racial justice. It’s off to a good start and I think it’s going to be a great book.
Q: What is Juneteenth? What does Juneteenth represent to you?
A: Even though Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation stating they were free on January 1, 1863, it took 2.5 years for word to get to the African American slaves in Galveston, Texas. They didn’t know they were free. Juneteenth is the celebration for those African Americans finally getting the word they were free. They celebrated, they prayed and they danced. When I think about what Juneteenth is, it’s a celebration of our experience as African Americans and the history of where we were, what we’ve been through and where we’re going in the future. It’s a promotion of our culture: past, present and future.
Q: What books do you recommend for anyone looking to expand their knowledge on Juneteenth, freedom and liberation?
A: There’s a couple! For children, there’s a book called Opal Lee and What It Means to be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth by Alice Faye Duncan and Keturah A. Bobo. There’s also Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper. For adults, there’s Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery by Barbara Krauthamer and Deborah Willis, The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome by Alondra Nelson, On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed and Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
Q: Why is your goal of opening a brick-and-mortar bookstore in Parramore significant to this neighborhood?
A: In 2008 when the concept of Kizzy’s Books & More came to be, I was looking at what areas I wanted to have that bookstore. I knew about Parramore, but as I was doing research, I found out the richness of the history, and how it was one of the oldest Black neighborhoods in Orlando. I knew that part of Parramore was going to be gentrified and redeveloped. I knew I wanted to have a location in that area because it was an influential, prominent neighborhood back in the day. We don’t have a place where we can go and connect with African American culture and literature. When Montsho Books died, there wasn’t another place that could fill that void.
Q: As a Black-owned bookstore, what do you hope to bring to the community?
A: I hope to bring a safe place where lovers of African American literature and culture, and those who love to read can come together and have a place where they can read and connect over a book. Reading is the most amazing thing and books can connect people that never have really connected before. I hope to bring to the community a space to promote literacy, especially for those who love to read or those who are trying to rediscover reading.
Q: How can bookstores and libraries help serve the Black community?
A: Bookstores and libraries can provide resources that can help students who lack reading proficiency. Reading is the gateway to everything you know. You need to be able to read to be able to work. You need to be able to read to do anything.
Q: How can libraries support authors and booksellers?
A: By spotlighting them. Libraries have a broad reach. A lot of people go to libraries. If there’s an up-and-coming author that readers should have on their radar, do a spotlight saying, “This is why we think that you will love this book or author.” Book recommendations go a long way.
A: I would say go ahead and do it, you never know until you try. It’s not geared toward just one book. There’s a list of books, so you can look at the list and see what’s on there and read the synopsis on the back of the book. You might see a book on the list and say, “Okay, I always wanted to read this book,” so go ahead and read it. Another thing it can do is help you rediscover books. Choose books that you know are going to spark your interest, and that you’d be willing to connect with other people and just discuss. You don’t have to read all the books on the list. Just be part of the conversation. For the young readers, there are some great books that just came out. One book by an African American author is called It’s the End of the World and I’m in My Bathing Suit by Justin A. Reynolds. You never know what kids might think; the cover alone might trigger the kids to read it.
Q: What are you looking forward to discussing in your virtual event, Working with Bookstores as an Author, on June 16?
A: I’m excited about the whole event! I’m excited about really connecting with authors to provide them with insight on what they need to do to get their books on shelves. I want to provide them with the do’s and don’ts so they are prepared and have an understanding of the process.