When Rosa Duffy opened her bookstore, For Keeps, more than two months ago, she had little to no expectations for the place. According to her, she was aware of the challenges going in, but once she started spreading the word about her plans, the feedback seemed reassuring.
And after a successful first few months and positive reception on social media, things worked out for her in more than one way.
Duffy wanted to open her store in a place that was easily accessible to the Black community of Atlanta. Originally she aimed for Castleberry Hill, but landing on Auburn Avenue was, in her own words, like “it all came together.”
“It was a feeling like, ‘Oh, of course, I’m ‘supposed’ to be on Auburn Ave,” Duffy said.
For Keeps focuses on hard-to-find and out-of-print books from Black authors. For example, her store carries a pamphlet from Gwendolyn Brooks called “Primer for Blacks,” an art book from Jacob Lawrence, and copies of a self-printed zine that Amiri Baraka published titled “Yugen.”
While some books are being offered at rarified prices, Duffy is not simply interested in just selling books. Many of the harder to find items are for display, sitting on a table where anyone can flip through them.
The store will also carry classics like Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” and W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Souls of Black Folks,” as a starting point for beginners. Duffy has even stocked the store with copies of Jet magazine.
According to Duffy, her intent is to make For Keeps more than just a place to find rare and unique books. The bookstore will serve as a place of comfort where Black readers can learn and be around others of the diaspora.
Because of this, she strives for the inventory to cover as many aspects of Black culture as possible.
“It’s really been great when people come in and say, ‘Oh wow, I just opened this book about Harlem and there’s an article about my grandfather that I’ve never seen,’” Duffy said. “‘I don’t have anything about him in print. I was just drawn to this book when I walked in here and look, here he is.’”
Duffy expresses that she also wants the store to be a resource for local Black readers.
When a copy of James Baldwin’s “Blues For Mister Charlie”, that Duffy was holding for a writer, had been sold, she made sure to track down a second copy for him. As it turned out the writer’s father had a special connection to Baldwin, so fulfilling this request meant a lot to her.
“Blues For Mister Charles’ was really important [to him] because his dad was around James Baldwin while he was writing [the book],” Duffy said. “Those are the kinds of things that I get really, really excited about when people find things in here they’ve had an actual experience with.”
Duffy acknowledged that tracking many of the books down was harder than it should’ve been, and this is connected to a history of negligence by the publishing industry.
“It’s harder to find our stuff than anybody else’s,” she explained. “A lot of the stuff that is hard to find, the people that know its value – and often they’re not necessarily people of color – have already grabbed them all up.”
“So it’s definitely harder to collect in the genre of Black, and the genre of self-published Black and radical Black,” she continued. “Because there were so few copies, which kind of keeps us in the dark.”
Still, Duffy’s bookstore has drawn in parts of the diaspora local and far.
Kathleen Cleaver, formerly of the Black Panther party, recently visited the bookstore with former political prisoner Eddie Conway. Also, many writers have started to work their way down.
Apparently, the community Duffy wanted to bring into For Keeps has found her, and she said she loves when someone stumbles upon something they never would have otherwise.
When someone finds a book on a topic they haven’t seen from a Black perspective, or someone who relates to their experiences, she said it makes her mission worthwhile.
“It’s so important as Black folks because of how the rest of the world represents us and sees us, to see each other,” Duffy said. “And to care for each – experience. Each view. We need to make sure that [the bookstore is] covering it because we don’t know ourselves as Black folks if we’re not covering it.”