‘One Year in Loveland’: Elizabeth’s Bookshop celebrates first anniversary with joy and community

By H.L. Comeriato, Devil Strip Staff Reporter

Rachel Elizabeth Cargle is filled with gratitude.

Behind a table lined with packaged appetizers and bottles of champagne, she pours herself a celebratory glass.

Last year, Cargle opened Elizabeth’s Bookshop and Writing Centre — Akron’s only Black-owned bookstore — in collaboration with The Well and Compass Coffee. She gave the space her own middle name and curated its shelves with care and affection.

On July 23, after both a joyful and tumultuous year, Cargle hosted a day of public events to mark the bookshop and writing centre’s first anniversary — along with the first anniversary of her umbrella company, The Loveland Group.

A writer, lecturer and public intellectual, Cargle has spent the last five years building an online learning community across social media platforms, along with a structured, anti-racist learning collective called The Great Unlearn.

In 2018, she founded The Loveland Foundation, an organization designed to cover the costs of therapy for Black women across the country. That year, she also thought a lot about home: what it means, how it feels and who gets to claim it.

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‘We planted seeds and we have toiled the ground’

When her mother was diagnosed with cancer last summer, Cargle moved back to Akron. For the first time, she explored and experienced the city as an adult, and found her relationship to it had changed.

“I’m just really committed and invested and excited to be part of Akron,” Cargle says. “We planted seeds and we have toiled the ground and we have been committed to watching this happen. I’m just really grateful that Akron welcomes me and Loveland and Elizabeth’s.”

As part of her “One Year in Loveland” celebration, Cargle invited poet, essayist and native Ohioan Hanif Abdurraqib to participate in a public conversation about writing, community, identity and home.

Curtis Minter, director of operations at The Well, moderates a conversation between writers Hanif Abdurraqib and Rachel Cargle at Elizabeth’s Bookshop and Writing Centre’s first anniversary celebration.

For Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America, living in the East Columbus neighborhood where he grew up and watching it change has been both heart-wrenching and nourishing. 

Cargle, too, says she’s tied to her hometown both creatively and emotionally — for better or worse.

“To go out and cultivate ourselves and our lives and careers and then come back and pour out the fruits of that? We’re coming back to serve our younger selves,” she says. “To serve what the new Ohio deserves.”

Between generations

As part of Loveland and Elizabeth’s anniversary celebration, Cargle also hosted a children’s book reading featuring her mother, Miss Gwen. 

Cargle’s relationship with her mother is the most formidable in her life. 

As a child, her mother read aloud to her often, which is where Cargle first caught the spark — a love of reading and literature that would build her career and last a lifetime.

“It was just special to be able to do that with my mom. The way that she read the book to the kids is exactly the way I got stories read to me my entire life,” Cargle says. “She was not performing. This is who she is as a person.”

For Cargle, having her mother present for Elizabeth’s first anniversary was an unexpected joy.

“To be nourished by her, again, right now, in a moment when I didn’t even know she’d be there, it gives me such a groundedness and settledness in my purpose,” Cargle says.

‘This is a rooting’

Cargle sips from a glass of champagne. Behind her, the Theron Brown Trio play a jazz rendition of “Pure Imagination.”

In the coming months and years, Cargle plans to keep building community in Akron.

As part of Elizabeth’s anniversary celebration, she partnered with the Akron Art Museum to offer free admission to Cleveland artist Jordan Wong’s 10,000 Things exhibit.

Cargle says she’s committed to building a connected, creative community here in Akron — something that music, art and literature have historically helped cultivate.

“This isn’t a one-time deal,” she says. “This isn’t just for the show of it. This is a rooting that’s happening for me, for my company.”

“I feel chosen to have thought of an idea that doesn’t even belong to me,” Cargle adds. “My only job was to birth it and now it’s here. It’s in conversation with the museum, with the library, with kids and adults. It’s no longer mine. It’s the community’s. It’s ours. It’s Akron’s.”

Near the register, a display of children’s books — A is for Activist, Hair Love, Drawn Together — sits alongside goods made by local artisans such as Akron Honey.

Cargle scans the room, watching as guests browse shelves filled with books by Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Carmen Maria Machado, Celeste Ng and Saeed Jones, among others. 

“[This] is so far beyond what my vision was,” she says. “Now, I can only sit back and revel in it.”

H.L. Comeriato covers public health at The Devil Strip via Report for America. Reach them at HL@thedevilstrip.com.

Photos: Sula Johnson

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