Over the summer, a number of mutual aid projects were created in response to both the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests for social justice. While many have focused on feeding people, Mutual Aid Books takes a different approach. The group’s focus instead is on feeding people’s minds with literature from Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) writers.
Alaya Carr is a recent graduate of Barnard College in New York City and leads the organization’s efforts to distribute free books at various rallies and protests around the city.
“Political education is really important. In the ’70s when the Black Panther Party was active, before you could do anything you had to attend political education meetings, even the kids did,” Carr said. “That tradition is really important. That’s what’s going to help people to create sustained healthy movements, all the tools are already there.”
Mutual Aid Books offers an array of literature including children’s books, science fiction and poetry. The only requirement is that it is written by BIPOC authors.
“A lot of the stuff that’s happening now, a lot of the concerns that people are bringing up in terms of climate justice, fighting the police state, fighting the prison industrial complex,” Carr said. “Those tools have already been created in terms of how to imagine alternative worlds, alternative futures. You just have to read.”
Mutual Aid Books has made connections with local stores to buy books wholesale, allowing the group to use a "pay what you can" model. One of the partnerships they’ve made is with the Seattle-based Cold Cube Press. Together, they created a zine focused on Black feminist thought from The Combahee River Collective which they have distributed at tabling events.
“A lot of these texts are now inaccessible to folks unless they have library access,” Carr said. “A lot of these works are hidden behind paywalls.”
Kathryn Kavanagh was at Mutual Aid Books’ latest tabling event. She picked up a handful of books, including works by Angela Davis and Octavia Butler.
“I mean if I bought all these books at the bookstore I’d probably be...it’s probably $100 worth of books I just picked up, maybe more,” Kavanagh said.
For Carr, if people gain a new perspective after reading a book from them, that’s a success.
“I think it’s a really wonderful thing to bring into my life and hope to pass it forward too,” Kavanagh said. “I’d love to be able to share some of these books and ideas with other people afterward.”
The group has caught the attention of people from all over by doing outreach over Instagram, including contacting local writer Ijeoma Oluo. At the end of the day, Carr says it’s just a big community of book nerds.