Kendra McNeil has been an avid reader since childhood, and as an adult she enjoys reading historical fiction, travel narratives and books “that help navigate the socio-political climate.”
Four years ago, McNeil decided to spread her love of reading by starting an online and pop-up bookshop called We Are LIT, focusing on multicultural books. In November 2020, We Are LIT took up semi-permanent residence inside the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives, at 87 Monroe Center NW.
As We Are LIT prepares to celebrate its four-year anniversary, McNeil talked with Grand Rapids Magazine about the burgeoning bookshop.
Grand Rapids Magazine: How did you get the idea for We Are LIT?
Kendra McNeil: I got the idea for We Are LIT from my love of books, reading and bookstores. The culture around books that I have experienced in my travels to other cities was not present in West Michigan, and I wanted to create it.
GRM: Do you host events?
KM: Yes. In the past, We Are LIT’s events were centered around its sponsored book clubs. Now it is shifting to bring the community more author talks and events that help create a culture around books at a higher level.
GRM: What is one of the biggest challenges about bringing multicultural literature to readers?
KM: One of the biggest challenges is changing the narrative around how we interact with books written by Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Latino and other people of color. Often, readers will engage with multicultural books as a matter of sociology and tolerance, not a true appreciation for the work as an art. We Are LIT is on a mission to change that.
GRM: What are some of the considerations you make when you are curating the books in your shop?
KM: The primary consideration I make when curating books for We Are LIT’s collections is what author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie refers to as “saying no to the single story.” During a TED conference, she said, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” So, in curating We Are LIT, I do my best to create collections that elevate diverse voices and the full human experience.
GRM: Who are some of your favorite authors or authors you are most excited about currently?
KM: Some of my favorite authors include historical fiction novelist Beverly Jenkins, the late novelist, essayist and professor Toni Morrison, and the late essayist and thought leader James Baldwin.
GRM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
KM: During the month of June, We Are LIT became a vendor partner with the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and maintains a highly curated collection of children’s books in its gift shop.
This story can be found in the September/October 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here.