Arts

Two Winnipeg friends are creating a library by and for queer people of colour

Renu Shonek and Carla Taylor want 2SQTBIPOC people to have a space — and books — for themselves.

Renu Shonek and Carla Taylor want 2SQTBIPOC people to have a space — and books — for themselves

The Yorkdale Village branch of the Toronto Public Library. (Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Growing up, Renu Shonek knew there was one place they'd be able to see books by authors with names like theirs.

"I was the kid who woke up early to watch Reading Rainbow and when LeVar opened that book, I saw people like me," they tell CBC Arts. "I didn't have an idea about my queer identity, but I knew that LeVar had the best books, and I was like, 'Why aren't those in my library?' I was always told my name was different, and LeVar would have books by people who had different names like me."

Now Shonek, along with friend Carla Taylor, are creating a space where people with those "different" names will be able to feel represented: the pair are creating a 2SQTBIPOC (two-spirit, queer, trans and Black/Indigenous/people of colour) library.

"Representation is a huge [issue]," says Shonek. "There's a whole lot of people that we didn't hear voices of, especially people of colour and especially queer people of colour. There's a lot of people that didn't have people to look towards."

"We're focused one hundred per cent on people of colour — the books, the poetry, the everything. [Usually] everywhere you go white people are heard, and POC aren't," they add.

Carla Taylor (left) and Renu Shonek (right) at a pizza fundraiser at Edha Bread. The two are in the initial stages of creating a 2SLGBTQBIPOC library. (Carla Taylor)

For Taylor, making sure two-spirit people are represented is especially important.  

"It was important to me personally because I am two-spirit," she explains. "It's important to set this all up in a good way that honours the land that we're on."

Taylor also sees creating the library as a way to work against the colonial structures that have been in place that limit people like her and Shonek.

"As a two-spirit person, part of the whole idea of colonization is that it is set up to do exactly what it's doing in the world: when a two-spirit or QTBIPOC does something, they're doing it outside of the system. And so often they have to struggle to create anything, so it's so important to create the spaces that we want."

Why is there such a big support for this library that is 2SQTBIPOC? Because people want it.- Renu Shonek 

Because this is a space for and by the community — there will be community consultations about what kind of content the library should have — both Shonek and Taylor were firm in their desire for the library to be located outside of an academic institution.

"The only place to access a lot of these types of materials is generally schools, and those aren't always accessible," says Shonek. "So having the ability to access this literature outside of an academic institution is important."

The library will be housed in Revolution Wellness Centre, the clinic Taylor owns. While at first it may seem odd to have a library in a wellness centre — Taylor is an athletic therapist working on her thesis to become an osteopath — it's actually a perfect fit.

"We provide healthcare services, among other things, and we do a lot of trans health services, so we're a space for people who have maybe been discriminated against," she says. "This library really fit into the vision of the space: we really wanted to provide resource space to 2SQTBIPOC people."

Carla Taylor's clinic, Revolution Wellness Centre. The library will be housed in the basement. (Revolution Wellness Centre/revolutionwellnesscentre.com)

While everyone is welcome, Shonek says non-2SQTBIPOC people need to recognize who the space is really for.

"Straight people are welcome, but they have to be respectful of who the space was built by and who it is for. People need to recognize that spaces like these have been created by people of colour. Like, why is there such a big support for this library that is 2SQTBIPOC? Because people want it."

The pair are currently fundraising and will start renovations this spring, with an opening date to follow. You can follow the library's journey on Instagram.

About the Author

Sara Atnikov is a freelance writer and organizer living in Winnipeg. Her work is focused around knowledge mobilization and arts and culture. You can see most of the things she's done at saraatnikov.com.

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