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Happy International Women's Day - Celebrating 1949Books

It is such a rare and beautiful gift to stumble upon a place that represents your love and passion. An organization or community that truly reminds you of the good in the world. One that inspires you to take action, to live fully, or to give back. It is electrifying to come across this, and an even greater blessing to be able to participate in it. I like to call these places of the heart.

For me, this space is 1949Books, a women’s reading room in Yopogoun, Abidjan. 1949Books houses literature from the Black and African world, with a collection of over 200 books by Black and African female authors. In addition to operating as a reading room for girls and women, 1949Books offers programming such as:

  • Voyage Littéraire: Biweekly storytime for girls ages 6 -10

  • Bissap Féministe: Monthly get-togethers where adults gather to read an excerpt from a book and discuss its implications for women

  • Papotage: a podcast where Edwige, the owner, and creator of 1949, discusses topics related to womanhood

  • Teenage English Club!

  • Along with so many more upcoming and exciting projects!

1949 is named after a historical year in CDI. That year, women in Grand Bassam led an anticolonial protest in August and December. The story of these women is considered convoluted at best, their work often gets reduced to simply marching for their husbands’ freedom. Which, after a quick examination of the numbers (2000 women, less than 30 men in jail) is clearly oversimplified. Like many women before them, this protest was ignited by their exhaustion with colonialism and their demand for more for themselves, their loved ones, and their country.

The name itself is an homage to the forgotten histories of Black women in all movements, but particularly our constant struggle towards liberation.

What moves me most about 1949Books is its motto: connaître pour être or you must know to be. I like to think about it as “you cannot be what you cannot see.” In a world that limits all women, but particularly low-income African women, allowing these young girls and women to know who they can become may be the most revolutionary service we can provide them. To offer them a safe space, a space to be soft, nerdy, goofy, playful, joyful, and (if we’re doing our jobs right) wholly themselves is, in my eyes, an immeasurable act of service.

1949 Books is the place I needed as a child and managed to piece together through the public library, television, and amazing women I had as teachers. But to have all of this and more in one, intentional and open space is extraordinary. And it is why I’m dedicating my International Women’s Day post to them.

The space is actually closed today as a way of introducing and encouraging rest. Before I return home, I’ll share some of the projects I’ve worked on with them. But for now, I’ll leave you with a snapshot of my current project: updating our Wall of Inspiration to decorate the secondary reading room.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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