Smith & Hannon Focuses on the African-American Authors You Need to Read

Photograph by Carlie Burton

Joyce C. Smith didn’t plan on relaxing when she retired after 26 years of climbing the ranks from teacher to principal to assistant superintendent. Instead, she continues teaching in her own way by highlighting works by African-American authors at her Over-the-Rhine bookstore Smith & Hannon. Nearly two decades ago, she realized how hard it was to find African-American authors at big-name bookstores. “Our books go out of print before any others,” Smith says, so she opened Smith & Hannon in 2003 in Bond Hill to help close that gap.

Three years ago, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center recognized her efforts and offered to house her bookstore in its former gift shop space. “It was good while it lasted,” Smith says. The Freedom Center reopened its gift shop last year, but Smith wasn’t ready for another retirement. In April, with help from the Women’s Business Center of Greater Cincinnati, Smith connected with 3CDC and moved into her current Vine Street storefront between Pontiac BBQ and Continuum.

The OTR bookstore displays vibrant African clothing, decorative carved wood and metalwork pieces, and a variety of jewelry and self-care products. And, of course, plenty of books: coffee table books on iconic African woodcarvings, art, and basket-weaving; Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first narrative novel and New York Times bestseller The Water Dancer; classics like Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Frank Yerby’s The Foxes of Harrow, and (Smith’s recommendation) poetry books by Nikki Giovanni. There are also children’s books—illustrated biographies of Coretta Scott King and Amelia Earhart share a space with She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History by Chelsea Clinton and illustrator Alexandra Boiger.

Photograph by Carlie Burton

Smith has also brought in local authors to lead in-person Q&A discussions. Recent events focused on Rick Pender’s guidebook 100 Things to Do in Cincinnati Before You Die, Michelle G. Stradford’s book of poetry I’m Rising, and Annette Januzzi Wick’s memoir I’ll Have Some of Yours. Although she says the move to OTR sort of feels like starting over, Smith is excited to introduce children’s storytime events and partner with more local authors. But that doesn’t mean she’s moving past her original mission. “I’ll always have African-American books,” she says. “Always.”

Smith & Hannon, 1405 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 641-2700

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