Black authors are highlighted across all genres, following Semicolon’s mission statement that aims to promote literacy empowering the community. (Lucas Paredes)
Black authors are highlighted across all genres, following Semicolon’s mission statement that aims to promote literacy empowering the community.

Lucas Paredes

Closing the gap: Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery cultivates representation, promotes literacy

February 20, 2023

With colorful street art and a myriad of books lining the walls, the Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery strives to offer an immersive and experiential environment for everyone to enjoy.  

The store, located in West Town, is a Black woman-owned bookstore and gallery space founded by Daniela Mullen in July 2019. Mullen’s community-oriented efforts and accomplishments attest to a growing field of women of color becoming business owners in the United States.  

According to the World Economic Forum,’three times more Black or African American entrepreneurs also started businesses.This share has tripled from 3% in 2019 to 9% in 2021,’” said Alyssa Westring, DePaul management and entrepreneurship Professor.  

Semicolon Bookstore has seating areas available through the gallery space for visitors to enjoy. Owner Daniela Mullen’s community oriented efforts strive to make art and literature accessible to everyone. (Lucas Paredes)

Mullen originally opened the store with the intention of creating a local environment that makes literature and art easily accessible to everyone.  

 The store celebrated National Black Literacy Day on Feb. 14, a holiday the store created in collaboration with their nonprofit program Parenthesis, to raise awareness toward the literacy disparities in underserved communities as they continue to close the literacy gap. 

“The whole goal of the bookstore is to bridge the literacy gap specifically in Chicago but obviously everywhere,” Madonia said.  

Open 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturdays, the Semicolon Bookstore is located on Halsted St. near Grand Ave off of the Blue Line. (Lucas Paredes)

The literacy gap includes the difficulties that children and adults may experience as it pertains to the comprehension of text. Disproportionate access to books and educational resources in low income communities of color can often be a driving factor for the literacy gap. According to The Barbara Bush Foundation For Family Literacy, 54% of adult Americans between the ages of 16 and 74 lack proficiency in literacy. 

Along with the bookstore’s efforts to close the literacy gap is a drive for creating a space that offers knowledge and culture representative of people of color to all the communities in Chicago.   

“Semicolon’s main mission is to provide a sort of fount of knowledge and culture that is specifically focused on POC authors and POC women authors to the general community,” said Semicolon Bookstore employee Joshua Miles Manigault. “To offer another center of Black culture to Chicago at large.”

Mullen wove the bookstore’s goal to continuously promote literacy and create a culturally immersive space for all communities into every aspect of the bookstore, including the name itself.

“Semicolon is an element that is used to let a particular thought or phrase continue where it could have stopped, and that is exactly what she intends to do with this brand,” Manigault said.  

The store continuously evokes various initiatives to promote literacy and the representation of marginalized identities. 

In line with those various initiatives, Parenthesis and National Black Literacy Day have allowed the store to promote and host events called #ClearTheShelves. The event is specifically curated to provide children from underserved communities with books. Through the nonprofit program, the bookstore collects donations and directs funds for CPS students.

“Basically, kind of like scholastic book fairs for CPS students, but it is free, so kids can come in and take whatever book they want,” Madonia said. “We go to them, we hold events like that here, so everything we do is with that goal in mind of bridging the literacy gap.”  

On Feb. 14, Semicolon Bookstore celebrated National Black Literacy Day where they hosted events called #ClearTheShelves. The events provided CPS students with free books through community donations.

While the store features a wide range of authors, maintaining black authors and women of color at the forefront of the space is an integral aspect of the store’s efforts to nurture the representation for marginalized identities and voices.  

“Usually 75% to 85% of our stock is all authors of color,” Madonia said. “We carry a lot of women, we carry a lot of black writers, but all kinds of POC authors, so the bulk of our store at all times is writers of color.”

The authors featured in the store range from Jessica George, Toni Morrison, Kei Miller and a plethora of other illustrious writers. The Semicolon Bookstore seeks to emphasize the importance of integrating narratives from people of color through the promotion of art and literacy.   

“There is a good amount of self-discovery that comes from it,” Manigault said. “To be able to have that type of outlet emotional, physical, even spiritual, I think is a necessary part of maturity.”

As the Semicolon Bookstore strives to offer a culturally and educationally enriching space for the city of Chicago, they simultaneously invest in a future dedicated to making literacy accessible to all and fostering an appreciation for the voices of people of color. 

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