“I wanted a space that was explicitly feminist,” Kalima DeSuze says as she cradles a coffee mug in the window seat at her Crown Heights bookstore and coffee shop, Cafe con Libros. “So many of our spaces are explicitly and implicitly male dominated. Men take up so much space all the time and I think it’s really important for us to say this is ours, and that’s OK.”
Before Cafe con Libros opened this past December, DeSuze, 38, had “never been in a dedicated feminist [bookstore] — ever.” She has hand-picked books for kids and adults that focus on female narratives.
When building out the small space, DeSuze wanted to work with female contractors, plumbers and electricians, too, but struggled to find any; eventually she worked with a team of men to help bring her vision to life.
“It was very difficult to get things off the ground,” she says, but that challenge made her all the more focused on opening her community space.
In the light-filled space, books like “I Am Jazz” and “Grace For President” line the front register, manned by Ryan Cameron, DeSuze’s husband and Cafe con Libros manager.
“He’s feminist-supporting,” DeSuze says. “He just read ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.” (Up next: bell hooks’ “Feminism Is For Everybody.”)
Throughout the shop, books by authors such as Lindy West, Kate Bornstein and Toni Morrison layer the shelves. DeSuze stocks a wide range of titles not always prevalently found at other bookstores, including books depicting life outside of America and children’s stories that inform young people about politics.
“You can be [politically] conscious in fifth grade,” DeSuze says. “You don’t have to wait until you’re 15 to know who RBG [Ruth Bader Ginsburg] is, you can know right now.”
A bulletin board for suggestions allows shoppers to request new releases or other topics they’d like to see literature on.
To ensure the titles are accessible (especially to women, who statistically earn less than men), books are priced at less than the full retail value.
“We price for women, we don’t price for capitalism,” DeSuze says. “Women will never be served by capitalism, we’re exploited.”
While we’re sitting together, a pair of men walk in and ask if the café is only for women, “because it says feminist outside.” It’s a question DeSuze says she hears often. “Feminism is for everybody,” DeSuze laughs. “It’s a way of life.”
Above all, Cafe con Libros is a collaborative, community venture.
“There isn’t a single decision in here that I’ve made myself, I don’t operate that way,” DeSuze says. “It’s really important to draw upon the community. Often, people rely on black women so much and we don’t get to just be. Black feminism has taught me that I don’t have to do everything alone.”
Feedback from family, friends and neighbors has shaped everything from the price of coffee to whether she should charge for use of her space (“No!”).
“We have to be diligent and can’t always think about everything in money-making constructs,” DeSuze says. “It’s hard and it’s scary because maybe I’ll wake up one day and [realize] I can’t pay the bills. But for now let’s just try to live our values and see how it goes.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story should have said Ryan Cameron is the Cafe con Libros manager.
- The name Cafe Con Libros is a play on “cafe con leche” and an ode to DeSuze’s family, who emigrated from Panama to Brooklyn.
- “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho is currently Cafe Con Libros’ bestselling book. (DeSuze believes everyone should read it once a year).
- Cafe Con Libros will host book clubs, readings, storytelling and more. Follow the shop on Instagram (@cafeconlibros_bk) for updates.
- The bookstore is located at 724 Prospect Pl. in Crown Heights. For more, visit cafeconlibrosbk.com.