By Margo Hammond
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The Book Pusher
Changing Kids’ Lives,
One Book at a Time
Lorielle Hollaway calls herself a book pusher.
Every weekend she is pushing children’s books at 833 22nd Street S. in St. Petersburg, along the Deuces corridor. The unmarked storefront during the week is a wellness center called The Well (run by Dr. LaDonna Butler), but on Saturdays and Sundays the space becomes Hollaway’s pop-up multicultural children’s bookstore and gallery called Cultured Books.
Among the books and artwork on display at the pop-up store are paintings and collages kids produced after reading a book. Thanks to the bookstore’s unique program, The Book Report Project (see details in sidebar), kids read a book and then create a book report in any form – from an essay to a piece of art to a podcast – which they can exchange for another book.
The books Hollaway pushes are not just any old books. They are multicultural volumes that empower children to believe in themselves and create a sense of community, books that foster pride by showing positive images and telling inspiring stories about people of color. “To show our children our stories don’t begin with struggle,” says Hollaway who is a mother of three girls ages 2-11, “to broaden world views.”
These inclusive books don’t just sit shelved at the bookstore. Hollaway pushes them out into the community — hosting book readings, book clubs and community events at some very unusual venues. Literacy workshops created by Cultured Books Lit Researcher Ray Grace under The Book Report Project take place every Friday evening for example, at Campbell Park Skate Park where the Cultured Books team hosts SLC (Skating. Literary. Community), combining reading with skating (see details below).
Every Saturday morning the team hosts a lawn party in front of the bookstore where books are served up with breakfast. On the first Saturday of every month waffles from Pop Goes the Waffle food truck are provided by Deuces Live St. Pete, the advocate organization for the 22nd Street South corridor.
Community partnerships have been the key to Cultured Books’ success. Pre-pandemic, Hollaway pushed poetry books in the garden at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum as part of the SunLit Literary Festival’s Kid’s Lit! Poetry event.
Also pre-pandemic, Cultured Books partnered with The Deuces Live St. Pete to present an International Film Series at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, showing films, bringing books and providing snacks at the historic Royal Theater down the street from the bookstore.
The WORD! Initiative and Keep St. Pete Lit fill book boxes in South St. Pete with selections from Cultured Books as part of their Word! Book Boxes project, a free book swap.
Cultured Books also supplies books for the Barbershop Book Club, a project spearheaded by barber Antonio Brown which holds book clubs for kids every Wednesday at nine Pinellas County barbershops.
With Tamia Iman Kennedy, founder of Black On The Scene, a production company that guarantees space for Black creatives, Hollaway launched Read About It, a web series that combines books with literary trips in the community.
The pilot episode — called Read About: Art — stars Hollaway’s two oldest daughters, 11-year-old Nadia and 9-year-old Ava Hardy. It’s an official selection at this month’s Sunscreen Film Festival. (See details below.)
Books are also part of the Second Sunday at the Deuces pop-up market Cultured Books sponsors every month rain or shine. On a recent rainy Sunday morning vendors Eshay’s Boutique, offering jewelry and clothes, and Amun-Rahs Fragrance Oils were setting up inside. On more sunny days the sidewalks in front of the bookstore are lined with vendors for pop-up sales.
Cultured Books is also planning to launch a podcast called SOS (Stories of Specificity). In development by one of Cultured Books’ interns, Clearwater resident Martha Kamara, the SOS project will showcase Black voices telling their unique stories.
Hollaway likes to quote Edward Hale, grand nephew of Nathan Hale, the American spy during the Revolutionary War: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
Her resolve to do something began in 2012 after George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges for shooting Trayvon Martin because he claimed to have felt threatened by the 17-year-old unarmed boy. “Something was not right,” she told herself. The non-guilty verdict “lit a spark in me to do something,” she said, speaking online at CreativeMornings/St. Pete, an organization connecting creative communities in more than 210 cities across the world.
Cultured Books eventually became that something. Born out of protest, the bookstore, and The Cultured Books Literacy Foundation that has grown from it, has aimed to promote positive stories about Black people and people of color. “We are, can and we will be the stars of our stories,” says Hollaway. “We are no longer the token, the afterthought, the sidekick.”
THE BOOK REPORT PROJECT
How to pay for a book with a book report
Cultured Books’ The Book Report Project gives kids the chance to create a book report about a book they have read that can be used as currency to purchase another book.
The book reports can be in any form – a traditional written report but also a musical composition, poetry, visual art (a drawing, painting or collage) or a podcast.
Kids fill out a survey, pick a book, read it and when they hand in their report on the book, they can get another one.
To reach those who can’t get to Cultured Books at 833 22nd Street S., the bookstore provides two literacy workshops each week off site – Skate. Literacy. Community (SLC) and Breakfast. Literacy. Community (BLC).
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SLC: SKATE. LITERACY. COMMUNITY.
Where: Campbell Park Skatepark at Campbell Park Elementary School, 600 12 Street S., St. Petersburg
When: Every Friday night from 5-7
What’s offered: Reading, snacks and skating on skateboards and roller skates
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BLC: BREAKFAST. LITERACY. COMMUNITY.
Where: On the lawn on the Deuces Corner across the street from Cultured Books at 833 22nd Street S.
When: Every Saturday morning
What’s offered: reading and breakfast. Every first Saturday waffles are provided by the Pop Goes the Waffle food truck (underwritten by The Deuces Live, the nonprofit advocate organization for the Deuces corridor)
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WANT TO HELP?
The average cost of a children’s book is $18.69. Want to help keep the Book Report Project funded? Donate to Cultured Books Literacy Foundation on the Cultured Books website here.
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READ ABOUT IT
A New Web Series
Read About It is an unscripted web series that takes viewers on literary trips around Tampa Bay to promote reading and literacy. It’s co-created by Lorielle Hollaway, owner of Cultured Books, a multicultural children’s pop-up bookstore on the Deuces corridor in St. Petersburg and Tamia Iman Kennedy, founder of Black On The Scene, a production company that guarantees space for Black creatives.
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PILOT EPISODE: READ ABOUT: ART
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In the pilot episode — Read About: Art — 11-year-old Nadia and 9-year-old Ava Hardy, two avid readers (and daughters of Hollaway) are inspired by their reading of Kimberly Drew’s book This Is What I Know About Art. The sisters board a bus to seek out art spaces in the Tampa Bay area where they can find Black representation in art.
They meet up with digital artist Nick Davis to see his Black Is Beautiful portrait series, view the murals of YalaFord (who lives in St. Petersburg’s Kenwood district) and tour the Derrick Adams: Buoyant exhibit held last fall at the Museum of Fine Arts.
Produced by Kennedy and directed by Moji Wilson, the pilot is an official selection of the Sunscreen Film Festival in its Web Shorts category. The festival is scheduled to show Read About: Art on Saturday May 1 at 1:15 and on Sunday May 2 at 4:15.
Read About: Art also can be seen on Locally Grown TV on Saturdays at 8 a.m. and 7:40 p.m. You can also rent the film for a 24-hour streaming period on Vimeo for $1.
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Ideas for new Read About It episodes include interviewing the Black-owned Force Indy Racing Team to coincide with its appearance at the Grand Prix in St. Petersburg April 23-25, exploring the intersection of hip hop music with local rapper Rod Wave and the Florida Orchestra and talking with Tampa-based Greg Neri, author of the 2011 graphic novel Ghetto Cowboys on Black cowboys, which inspired the recent film Concrete Cowboy starring Idris Elba (now streaming on Netflix).
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WANT TO HELP?
“We have so many episodes in mind but in order to create that, we need your help, your financial support,” Tamia Iman Kennedy says in a video promoting the series at readaboutitseries.org.
“So help us make this dope show about Black kids reading books while exploring their city,” adds Hollaway. Donations can be made here.