When Mary Taris was raising her four children in north Minneapolis, she knew she needed to give them books more representative of their identity than the ones she’d had as a child.
“I always had to spend extra time and money to find books that our Black children could relate to,” she said. “At a certain point, after years of being frustrated, I just decided I needed to do something about it.”
And so she did.
In 2018, Taris founded Strive Community Publishing to carve out space in the publishing world for Black authors. It has published fiction and nonfiction works for adults and children from 20 authors and five illustrators, and recently opened its first store at the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis.
Strive Bookstore’s grand opening will be held July 20, and will feature Anthony Walsh, author of “Hockey Is for Everybody.” The bookstore launch will also kick off Strive’s summer Book Talk series, during which patrons will have opportunity to meet authors.
“We’re hoping that at the grand opening we can get to know some of the people who live in the downtown community and find out what they would like to see in a bookstore,” Taris said.
‘I was always wishing to be like someone else’
Taris’ experiences as a reader, educator, and mother all contributed to her aspiration to provide children with culturally relevant books.
When she was a child growing up in north Minneapolis, reading was a reprieve from a chaotic home life.
“I would just be in my room reading anything I could get my hands on,” Taris, 58, said recently during an interview at Sistah Co-op, the Black-woman focused business collective in the IDS Center where Strive is also located. “It was like reading for escape, and wishing I was somewhere else.”
But she never felt represented in the books she read as a child.
“I was always wishing to be like someone else from a book instead of appreciating my own life and culture and understanding my own identity,” she said.
It wasn’t until Taris was in her 20s that she read something that she could see herself in. One of her coworkers, an older Black woman, had stepped in.
“Girl, you need to be reading some books by Black folks,” Taris recalled her coworker saying. She lended Taris “Disappearing Acts,” a novel by Terry McMillan.
At that moment, a whole new world opened up for Taris. “My mind was blown,” she said.
Taris said the straw that broke the camel’s back came during her final few years of teaching. Her school, located in the Robbinsdale school district, had received an arts grant, and she was encouraged to put together an arts-integrated lesson plan.
At the time, her class of predominantly Black fifth-graders was busy learning about autobiographies and biographies. But there were only a handful of Black biographies in the school’s library.
To fill that void, Taris planned to have her students pretend to be adults, and write and illustrate their own autobiographies. She put in a budget request for blank books and markers for her students.
Her request was denied.
“That was it for me,” Taris said. “It’s like, ‘I’m just gonna start my own business and I’ll spend my money on what I want for our kids.’”
She left teaching in 2019 to focus on Strive.
‘They’re handing over their baby’
When Taris founded Strive, she was supported by a circle of writers she calls her founding authors.
“I give them that distinction because they had to go through the learning process with me,” Taris said.
She said she felt fortunate that they trusted her–and Strive–with their stories.
“One thing that’s key in publishing is to be able to have the trust of the authors, especially authors who are marginalized like Black authors are, because they have been writing their stories for years,” Taris said. “By the time it gets to me, they’re handing over their baby.”
Donna Gingery, a 61-year-old Black woman and one of Strive’s founding authors, said one of her favorite parts of working with Strive was the support and encouragement she received throughout the writing process.
“There’s a lot of things I like about Strive Publishing,” Gingery said. “The encouragement of the writer, the respect that you’re getting from the publisher, and not trying to change the narrative of your book. I think that’s really important.”
Taris said that Strive does its best to hire Black editors to look over their books.
The book Gingery is currently working on was inspired by her childhood and her great-grandmother. It’s not ready yet, she said, but she’ll take it to Strive when it is.
Taris’ vision for Strive doesn’t end with the IDS Center location. “We do have plans for growth and a possible second location,” she said.
In the meantime, she wants to focus on serving the downtown community. “We’re really striving to connect across cultures,” she said.
Part of that, she said, is portraying the Black community and all of its richness and diversity of talent in a positive light.
Readers are already responding.
“This is a cultural exchange,” Shimelis Wolde, 70, said recently as he browsed the co-op. “It’s important for the new generation.”
Strive Community Publishing’s new bookstore grand opening will take place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 20. The store is located in Suite 254 of the IDS Center, 80 S. 8th St., Minneapolis. Light refreshments will be served. More information is available at 763-270-5738 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five new books at Strive Bookstore recommended by founder Mary Taris
Blend in Or Fade Out: A Memoir, by Colnese M. Hendon
“Blend in Or Fade Out: A Memoir” explores Colnese Hendon’s experience growing up as a biracial child adopted into a middle-class Black family. This striking memoir follows Hendon through a journey of healing and self-discovery as she navigates Minnesota’s racial and cultural landscape.
Victory Over Kidney Disease, by Kevin L. A. Jenkins
Part self-help book and part memoir, “Victory Over Kidney Disease” covers eight principles that Kevin Jenkins followed in the years leading up to his kidney transplant. While the story is about his personal battle with kidney disease, Jenkins’ eight principles are broadly applicable to anyone’s life.
Under a Cloven Sky: A Scorched Heavens Novel, by Ricardo G. Peters
“Under a Cloven Sky: A Scorched Heavens Novel” is a young adult novel that explores the struggles of royalty and power. It features a host of Black characters on a beautiful fantasy island. This is the first book in a planned trilogy.
Yep, That’s My Mommy, by Jean Mountain
“Yep, That’s My Mommy” explores a child’s experience learning about their transgender mother. This touching picture book helps young children navigate some basic questions about what it means to be transgender in a simple and age-appropriate way.
Hockey is for Everybody, by Anthony Walsh
“Hockey is for Everybody” follows Anthony, a young Black boy, through his experiences as the only Black hockey player on his team. This children’s book was meant to be an easy way to spark important but often tough conversations about race between parents and children.