Minneapolis book publisher Mary Taris is on a mission.
“There’s a huge learning curve,” she says. “I love to read, but at a certain point, you want to see yourself represented. You want to be able to connect with stories.
His plan: get more black voices on the printed page.
“It will take a collective effort, but I believe we can work together,” she explains. “Make it as accessible for black kids to see themselves on a shelf, in a book, in a bookstore, as anyone else.”
In 2018, Taris retired from teaching, in Minneapolis and Robbinsdale, to start Strive Publishing.
The volumes filling the shelves of his new bookstore represent two goals: greater representation of black authors and the release of children’s books that are more representative of the culture – where young readers can see characters who look like them.
“I think it validates them as a person and it validates the community they come from,” Taris notes. “Books written by and about black people will help break down the stereotypes our society has created about black people.”
Taris introduced us to several authors who have works in her store at the IDS Center, located in the Chameleon Consortium, a cooperative for entrepreneurs of color.
Among them is Donna Gingery, a special education teacher from Robbinsdale.
“That was one of my goals, to make sure kids could see people like them, but not in a situation, just being kids,” Gingery says.
Her first book is called “Red and the Egg Pie” – the adventures of a little girl whose grandmother is her best friend.
We asked Gingery if her book has the potential to change a child’s life.
“I think so, because not only African American kids will see it, but all nationalities will see it,” she notes. “I think that’s the most important part. It represents a culture that some may not be as familiar with.
After the murder of George Floyd, Taris decided she wanted to publish books for adults.
Authors of color, who could share their life experiences.
“With the murder of George Floyd, we got so many inquiries and submissions from black people who just wanted to be heard to tell their stories,” Taris recalled. “That’s why we ended up transitioning to the adult genre, so people would call to tell their life story. Let them into the Twin Cities story, be an inspiration to the next generation.
Among these adult authors is Kevin Jenkins, who wrote about his victory over kidney disease – twenty plus.
“When I was riding, we didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me,” he says. “That’s why books are so important, that’s why the things we are today are so important, to leave a legacy for those who come behind us.”
Gingery and Jenkins say they have new projects in the works.
She started editing a book about children using common sense in life.
He hopes to profile other people struggling with serious illnesses.
As for Taris, she is looking forward to it, with plans to showcase many other black authors, especially of children’s books, at community events starting later this month.
“I really hope it’s a sustainable business that will be around long after I’m gone,” she says. “It can be a legacy for my children, as well as for the community.”
You can learn more about Strive Publishing here.