Sharing the Black Experience Through Books

Amber Collins opened Soul Book Nook with the belief that “books could bring us together.” Photography courtesy of Experience Waterloo.

Writer: Linh Ta

The summer of 2020 was one of many reckonings for Amber Collins of Waterloo.

The nonprofit she worked for closed due to the pandemic.

Outside her home, Black Lives Matter activists were protesting the murder of George Floyd.

As things were coming to a boil, Collins, who is Black, says she felt moved to make a change in her life and “help the community heal.”

So she dug into her childhood passion—books.

“I felt that books could bring us together and also could create more awareness that African Americans have contributed so much in history,” Collins says. “They have been poets and historians and scientists and biologists, and books were out there that could reflect that.”

Collins started Soul Book Nook as a way to not only share her love of books, but also to celebrate the Black American experience. She operated as a traveling bookstore out of her van after looking through her own literary collection at home.

But what she truly desired was a storefront. While behemoths like Amazon and Target dominate book sales, she felt Waterloo still needed a physical space that encouraged literacy and was representative of the community, which is 16% Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

After dreaming of finding the perfect space, Collins says a spot opened up in Waterloo’s historic downtown district.

Soul Book Nook became official in October 2020, and today Collins is a bustling one-woman show.

You can find her helping customers discover their next great read or packing books up for her online store. The shop has a little of everything, including examinations of slavery and historical romance novels.

Some of her favorite works by Black authors are “Dreamland Burning” by Jennifer Latham, “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson and “Don’t Touch my Hair!”—a children’s book by Sharee Miller.

“I did not know I was walking into such an empty space that was very vital for a community,” Collins says. “They needed a local store that would provide this type of material to the community.”

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