Face Out: ABA Board Member Angela Maria Spring on Her Life Among Books

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In this installment of our series profiling American Booksellers Association Board membersBookselling This Week talks to Angela Maria Spring, owner of Duende District Bookstore in Washington, D.C. In May, Spring was elected to her first three-year term (2018–2021) on the ABA Board.

Bookselling This Week: Please talk about your early experiences with reading and books.

Angela Maria SpringAngela Maria Spring: I have always loved books, since before I could read, but I remember the exact moment I completely learned to read, when I was six and it was as if the world cracked open — I read everything I could get my hands on and wrote poems and stories relentlessly.

BTW: Did you hold other positions in the book industry before becoming a bookseller?

AMS: My career has always been focused around books in some way as a poet and journalist. I’ve also been an editor in different capacities for literary journals.

BTW: How did you begin as a bookseller, and how long after starting in bookselling did you begin to feel that you had found a special vocation?

AMS: It was in the beginning of my third year in college when I got my first job as a bookseller at Waldenbooks. I loved the manager; he was someone who cared about bookstores very much and was great at mentoring kids like me. He told me everyone should work a retail Christmas season, which I agree with wholeheartedly. I had grown up in a few Albuquerque bookstores, but that Waldenbooks was the most constant and the most special. I remember getting my Baby-Sitters Club books every month there when I was six, seven, eight. I bought A Game of Thrones there the year it came out, my senior year of high school, and no one had a clue who George R.R. Martin was. Bookstores, even the smallest chain bookstores, hold deep meaning and memories for many people. Working there was the spark.

BTW: What do you think was the most important factor that led to your establishing your store?

AMS: I’ve always wanted to have my own store but due to my student loan debt, I felt it wasn’t a very achievable thing. I also wanted to have a non-traditional model — a concept store — and I’m obsessed with hybrid models. I’m also someone who likes a lot of different types of shopping. But I knew I had to get past my fear and evolve what my idea of a bookstore is when I realized how few PoC bookstore owners there are and how few senior positions we occupied. What was I doing, running the floor of a major bookstore and ending up in tears with a fellow Latinx customer because we only had a single book on Latinx culture by a Latinx author? People of color buy books. People of color deserve to have high-quality literary bookstore spaces for and by us. We deserve access to books that represent our entire experience, not just told through the lens of our oppression. That was the most important factor to establishing Duende District.

BTW: When did you first become a member of ABA? What motivated you to join?

AMS: I’ve been an active beneficiary of ABA’s education since 2010 via the member stores I’ve worked for, and it made sense for me to sign Duende District up as a prospective member as soon as I had a store name to register. ABA is one of the strongest, most unique trade associations, and its board and staff have served our membership exceptionally well. Part of that was to listen to a handful of PoC booksellers who advocated for active change within the organization to support true diversity initiatives, to make the board and its directors more inclusive and representative, then move to create the Diversity Task Force directly afterward.

BTW: What do you think are some of the most important changes in bookselling since you opened your store?

AMS: One of the most important changes is that the alternative “non-traditional” bookstore model has become more widely seen and accepted as a vital part of the health of our industry. While pop-ups and hybrid stores, like for-profits/non-profits, have existed for a long time, the advocacy and support of innovative new models has come along at a strong pace since I founded Duende District.

BTW: What are your key goals as an ABA Board member for fostering the book industry, and bookselling in particular?

AMS: My key goals are to work with ABA to help identify and advocate for viable, financially sustainable, non-traditional or alternative bookstore business models; to embrace different/new technologies to strengthen our industry; and to help identify, recruit, and support a more diverse membership, while determining what we can do as a trade organization to better serve and advocate for stores with mission-based models.

BTW: What are you reading now?

AMS: I just finished Nicole Chung’s wonderful memoir, All You Can Ever Know, from Catapult, and Ling Ma’s new novel, Severance. I’m also in the middle of a few books, including Citizen Illegal, a poetry collection by José Olivarez, and Jamel Brinkley’s short-story collection, A Lucky Man.

BTW: You get a day to walk through any city, town, or landscape with any one writer. What writer and what place?

AMS: I would walk through Albuquerque and Santa Fe with Joy Harjo. In Mad Love and War is one of my favorite poetry collections, and I’ve always particularly cherished the poems that feature New Mexico (she also attended the University of New Mexico); her memoir, Crazy Brave, gave even more detail of her time as a teenager in an arts school in Santa Fe. I’ve always seen her as emblematic of the wealth of amazing artists in my home state.