Local Harlem Bookstore Shines In a Time Of Political Darkness

On the corner of Malcolm X Boulevard and Lenox Avenue a chalkboard drenched in striking pink and green lettering reads, “American lives are not more important than other people’s lives;" a lovely quote by Bob Avakain. Looking past this, the store's window presents a myriad of multilingual books lined up on multiple shelves including, Zadie Smith’s "Swing Time" and Adolf Hitler’s "Mein Kampf." Inside the store, which is jam-packed with local artist’s jewelry, children’s books, fiction novels, and academic writing, it's clear to see that Revolution Books is far from your typical Barnes & Noble.

Kevin Lee, one of many volunteer employees at Revolution Books, explains that the store is available for guidance especially in a time when people are perplexed by the political and social status of the country.

Each book is cultivated by the store’s committee whom share the mission statement: “Revolution Books is a bookstore with literature, history, science, art philosophy, and revolutionary theory… a place of discovery and engagement. Scientific and poetic, wrangling and visionary. A bookstore at the center of movement for revolution.”

The bookstore was previously located in Chelsea, however, the rent increased and the volunteer-based business migrated to Harlem, which Lee notes is a “special place” where the books are better complimented by the neighborhood’s historically famous commitment to activism and progression. All of the staff at the store are volunteers who are passionate about creating a place of discovery where people of all ages, races, and genders can unveil a vision of a different structure of the world.

Lee revealed that customers he encounters at the bookstore on a daily basis are from all over the world and come in with different intentions, which is why they are eager to provide multilingual options for many of their books. By doing so, they ensure that all Harlem locals, tourists, and visitors have access to these alternative views on the current status of the country.

Revolutionary Books increases their inclusiveness with a children’s section, which has tall book shelves stuffed with colorful picture books teaching the importance of equality, acceptance, and diversity alongside miniature reading desks and rocking horses that encourage the children to communicate and play. Some of these titles include “Visiting Day," “I Love My Hair," and “Eventually Everything Connects.”  

The wide ranging selection of books, which hone in on the company’s theme of communism, Atheism, and anti-fascism, combined with today's demand of political text is demonstrated when Lee points out, “There’s a book up here called "Church Ladies." Mind you, we’re in a communist bookstore, we’re Atheist. But, the book up there is written by a woman who goes to the church up the street. It’s a fascinating book about the church from the eyes of these women and we sell a lot of them here.”

During our chat, Lee emphasized that people with varying perspectives are welcome, and encouraged, to explore and broaden their views through the abundance of books, memoirs, and art sold at the store.