Above, a photo from the Bettmann/CORBIS Archive.
No Crystal Stair: A Novel in Documents, Based on the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Carolrhoda LAB / Lerner | 9780761361695 | $17.95 | Feb 2012
I read a book today that's coming out from Carolrhoda LAB/Lerner next February - a YA novel told in the form of an oral history - about Lewis Michaux, founder of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem. The book is written by his great-niece, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.
Michaux's was the first (the first!) bookstore specifically selling books by and for African-Americans. He had a sign up over the storefront that proclaimed it "The House of Common Sense and the Home of Proper Propaganda".
The National Memorial African Bookstore was in the middle of everything and everyone from the Harlem Renaissance up through the Civil Rights struggle and into the Seventies: Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Eldridge Cleaver, Nikki Giovanni and more. Thousands and thousands of regular bookstore customers' lives were enriched by the presence of such a passionate, intelligent bookstore owner in their midst.
Although Michaux's bookstore is no longer open – it closed in 1975 after a faceoff with the State of New York over the state's redevelopment of the blocks surrounding the store's original building and a brief tenure in a second location blocks away – Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and R. Gregory Christie have brought it back to life in these pages, accompanied by dozens of historical photographs.