Last night was the launch party celebrating the debut of the API Flying Bookshelf, a new roving library of books about the Asian & Pacific Islander experience that will take up temporary residence in cafes around the city. The Flying Bookshelf's first location is on the mezzanine level of the Eastern Cafe, right next to the Seattle Pinball Museum in the International District.
I spoke with Bookshelf co-founder Derek Dizon about the Bookshelf's origins. He said the Bookshelf was inspired by the Asian American Curriculum Project, a bookstore in San Mateo that specializes in titles by Asian and Pacific Islander authors. Dizon, a former Asian American studies major at the UW, explained the need for the Bookshelf by saying there just aren't that many outlets for API authors. "We wanted to make them accessible to the community," he says, and so the Flying Bookshelf, with a staff of ten volunteers, was born. The volunteers each curate a specific category—fiction, history, cinema, art—and will organize a series of open mics and author events. Right now the library features fewer than a hundred titles and a handful of zines, but they're always accepting donations of titles or expertise. You check titles out on a simple honor system: If you're interested in a book—say, Virgil Mayor Apostol's Way of the Ancient Healer, you simply pull the library card out of it, write your name and the date on the card, and leave it in the supplied basket.
To celebrate the launch of the Bookshelf, a few dozen young professionals and UW students held an open mic featuring hiphop; accounts of growing up in the Hawaiian diaspora ("my birth certificate is crowded," the story began); and recommendations of favorite authors (one reader suggested Chang Rae Lee—specifically Native Speaker—and Geo from Blue Scholars).
The API Flying Bookshelf will be at the Eastern Cafe through September. Dizon says they're "always looking for places to host. If anyone would like to host us, we'd love to hear from them. I promise we will bring you business." It's such a great idea for a community organization, a kind of wandering institutional book club spotlighting an underrepresented community; if the API Flying Bookshelf takes off, it's not hard to imagine a whole fleet of different Flying Bookshelves landing in communities all over Seattle. When you get right down to it, the whole thing—the books, the Bookshelf, the readings—is "us telling our own story," as Dizon explained to the audience. I can't think of a worthier cause.