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Cultured Books is changing the narrative for children in South St. Pete and beyond

Megan Holmes

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In a time when independent booksellers are enjoying a renaissance, Lorielle Hollaway is using curated bookselling to make an impact. The St. Petersburg native founded Cultured Books, a pop-up children’s bookstore specializing in multicultural and diverse literature, in 2017.

As owner and operator of Cultured Books, Hollaway curates a collection of culturally-relevant books and stories that promote literacy and positive self-image for elementary-age children.

“The whole world opened to me when I learned to read” – Mary McLeod Bethune

Of course, positive images and positive stories are not what children of color often see portrayed in the media. In the wake of the killing of young, unarmed black men, particularly the murder of Trayvon Martin, Hollaway was looking for a way to make change that felt right to her. “This became my activism,” she said. “I found my piece of activism by changing the narrative and changing the way that children see themselves.”

Cultured Books’ mission is to disrupt the dominant, often ubiquitous narrative that children of color must always struggle. “The books that are going out empower and uplift, they are not just about struggle,” Hollaway said. “When you do see books about children of color, you often see struggle in them. Our books have positive images and positive stories.”

If a story is about struggle, Hollaway explained, it’s not necessarily about civil rights struggles. One story, for example, is about a young black child struggling with picking his nose. After all, Hollaway said, it’s not just about making stories accessible, it’s about making stories that are interesting to the reader accessible. But the stories available at Cultured Books’ aren’t just for children of color, Hollaway said. There are stories for children of every culture and ethnicity, and stories focused on diversity and inclusion.

Cultured Books is intentionally located in the heart of 22nd St. S, known as the Deuces. Originally, Hollaway thought she would locate her business on Central Avenue. But as her business came to fruition in pop-up form, Hollaway began to change her mind. After learning the street’s history, a history she didn’t know until well into her 20s, Hollaway realized it was the perfect fit. Prior to integration, the Deuces was the bustling African American business district. In its heyday, it was home to 100+ African American-owned businesses.

“It was the black Central Avenue,” Hollaway said. “I wanted to be a part of the history and culture there.”

While Hollaway hopes to move to a brick and mortar location soon, she’s currently open in pop-up each Sunday in the Deuces Live Offices at 833 22nd St. S from 1 to 4 p.m. Cultured Books will also soon be launching an online store.

Through Cultured Books, Hollaway hosts book clubs, author talks  and community events promoting literacy, including partnership with the WORD! Initiative and Keep St. Pete Lit. Together, they created the WORD! Book Box to make culturally inclusive and celebratory books accessible. The partnership creates accessible book exchanges by recycling newspaper vending machines into curated mini-libraries.

The team behind the book boxes is partnering with Zulu Painter, a celebrated local muralist whose works are visible throughout St. Petersburg, particularly in South St. Pete and the Deuces, to have each of the WORD! Book Boxes painted with bright, inviting colors. Eventually, she hopes the book boxes will soon be a staple of every neighborhood.

Learn more about Cultured Books at their website or Facebook page.

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