The SpeakEasy Bookmobile

“The SpeakEasy Bookmobile is so important, even innovative…it represents a rare and special opportunity. It breaks down the walls between us and our bilingual constituency because it has no walls.”
— Miriam Bridenne, Deputy Director, Albertine Books

Click here to learn more about SpeakEasy’s new Artmobile initiative, supported by the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. If you are interested in supporting our efforts, you can do so by donating here, or email [email protected] to get involved.

Upcoming Outings

Festivals & Block Parties: 
With Red Hook Initiative:
  • WhereRed Hook Initiative, 767 Hicks St, Brooklyn, NY
  • When: Thursday, August 18, 2 PM-6 PM; Red Hook Initiative Block Party! This event will be ALL ages!
  • Where: Coffey Park, between Dwight St. and Mill St.
  • When: Saturday, August 27, 12 PM – 4 PM; Red Hook West Family Day Celebration
With The Brooklyn Public Library and BOMB Magazine:
  • Where: Central Library Plaza, 10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY 
  • When: Friday, August 26, 6 PM – 9 PM
  • What: Small Press Flea (SPF) makes its return to the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch at Grand Army Plaza for another beautiful August day with your favorite local publishers and magazines
With Bay Ridge Open Streets:
  • Where: Bay Ridge, Brooklyn 
  • When: Saturday, August 20: 10 AM – 4 PM
With Weeksville Heritage Center and NYC DOT: 
  • WhereWeeksville Heritage Center, Buffalo Ave. between St. Marks Avenue and Bergen Street
  • When: Saturday, September 17: 12-4 PM
  • What: Every Saturday, Buffalo Ave. between St. Marks Avenue and Bergen Street in Brooklyn closes to vehicle traffic and parking, allowing the street to open up for community programming. Click here for Open Streets programming with NYC DOT.
With 31st Ave Open Streets: 
  • Where31st Avenue, between 33rd to 34th, Astoria, NY
  • When: Saturday, September 3: 12 PM-4 PM
  • What: Every Saturday, 31st Avenue between 33rd and 35th Streets in Astoria closes to vehicle traffic and parking, allowing the street to open up for community programming. Click here for Open Street programming with 31st Ave.
Back to School Outings:
With Literacy Inc.:
  • Where: Highland Park Playground, 241 Highland Blvd., Brooklyn, NY 11207
  • When: Wednesday, August 24: Time TBD
  • What: East New York Brooklyn NYC Reads Initiative Back to School Event; More information to come!
With Made for Me Books and NYCHA:
  • Where: Taft Houses, 115th between Madison and Park, East Harlem
  • When: Tuesday, August 30: Time TBD
  • What: TAFT’s Annual Back to School Event; More information to come!

Recent Outings

In Red Hook, Brooklyn: Red Hook Initiative Block Celebrations
  • WhereRed Hook Initiative Center, 767 Hicks St, Brooklyn, NY
  • When: Thursday, August 11: 11 AM-4 PM
  • What: Freedom School Graduation. This event was primarily with 9th and 10th graders, but was also open to the community.

At Red Hook Initiative, the Bookmobile came out to support young people of the Red Hook Houses in RHI programming milestones. Here, we also met brothers Jeremiah and Messiah, pictured to the left. “When I have superpowers, I will fly,” Jeremiah (right) told us. “But the only way I will use my powers to fly is when I’m saving the world.”

At Weeksville Heritage Center: Weeksville Green

 

  • WhereWeeksville Heritage Center, Buffalo Ave. between St. Marks Avenue and Bergen Street
  • When: Saturdays, August 6 & 13: 12-4 PM
  • What: Every Saturday, Buffalo Ave. between St. Marks Avenue and Bergen Street in Brooklyn closes to vehicle traffic and parking, allowing the street to open up for community programming. Click here for Open Streets programming with NYC DOT.

Back at WHC, the Bookmobile shared Buffalo Ave with groups including Seeds in the Middle and Cremas Absalon Haitian Liqueur. Olivia, pictured here, works for the latter and lives in Queens; “I need a good book. The Barnes & Noble near me closed down!” she told us.  

On 31st Ave, Astoria: Open Streets

When: Saturdays: July 2, 16, 30: In partnership with 31st Ave Open Streets

What: Every Saturday, 31st Avenue between 33rd and 35th Streets in Astoria closes to all motor vehicle traffic and parking, and opens up for walking, cycling, dining and community programming. Click here for programming.

Where: 31st Avenue between 33rd and 35th Street, Astoria, NY, 11106

Throughout the summer, we bring our shelves to the streets of Astoria. Here, we’ve set up alongside community-fulcrums including Astoria Food Pantry, Connected Chef and Podcast on the Streets. Passerby — with many with babies, dogs, or friends in tow — were exciting to add reading to their rotations for these Saturdays.

At Weeksville Heritage Center: Fifth of July
  • When: Saturday, July 9: In partnership with Weeksville Heritage Center, 11 AM – 4 PM
  • What: A 5th of July gathering of contemplation, community and Black history.
  • Where: Weeksville Heritage Center, 158 Buffalo Ave.

As part of WHC’s annual celebration, which centers Black New Yorkers and a history of collective emancipation movements in America, the Bookmobile provided community-members free access to works by Frederick Douglass, August Wilson, and Roxanne Gay, amongst other prominent writers of the African diaspora. 

At the Brooklyn Museum: Juneteenth
  • When: Sunday, June 19: In partnership with ArtsConnection & Culture Connected, 2 PM -6 PM
  • What: Brooklyn Museum’s Honoring Juneteenth, a day of FREE family activities from community partners in celebration of Black liberation, creativity, community, and joy! Click here for the schedule.
  • Where: The Brooklyn Museum (Biergarten/Sculpture Garden), 200 Eastern Pkwy.

At the Brooklyn Museum, in which our partners provided the art supplies and we the books. Readers carried away picks from The Divine Comedy to collected Louise Glück poems to Babymouse graphic novels.“Books are agents of change and envoys of new realities,” our Bookseller Jesús Rivera reflected afterwards. 

At the Adams Houses: Juneteenth
  • When: Saturday, June 18: In partnership with NYCHA and Artbridge, 12 PM-4 PM
  • What: A Juneteenth celebration of art installations with food, games, art activities, free books, and music by DJ Swan
  • Where: Adams Houses in The Bronx: E. 152nd St. & Wales Ave.

June 18th was a New York summer family day, centered on celebration of public art and literature. Many eager readers young and old visited us in the southern Bronx; hands small and large opened opened joyously to receive books. Read more here

House of SpeakEasy believes that book ownership should be a right, not a privilege. Launched in 2017, The SpeakEasy Bookmobile is a direct response to the proliferation of “book deserts,” neighborhoods where bookstores are in short supply—or worse, nonexistent. Our modified box truck is outfitted with 54 linear feet of shelving that accommodate a variety of books for all ages. We partner with independent bookstores, literacy organizations, community boards, and arts institutions to curate appropriate titles. From plazas in The Bronx and Queens to the Boys & Girls Club in Jackson, Mississippi, we deliver books and book culture, ensuring that books can be made available to readers everywhere. .

Watch a short video above about our recent event in Harlem with the New York City Housing Authority.

Vintage Bookmobile

The SpeakEasy Bookmobile is part of a long tradition of mobile bookselling and roaming lending libraries that dates back to 1860. Librarian Mary Titcomb, who introduced a horse-drawn book wagon in the United States in the early 20th century, declared: “The book goes to the man, not waiting for the man to come to the book.” As it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain brick and mortar bookstores, SpeakEasy understands that substantial areas of New York City and large numbers of New Yorkers do not have access to bookstores and/or libraries. The SpeakEasy Bookmobile is a literal vehicle for bringing books to the people.

Book Deserts

In 2017, The SpeakEasy Bookmobile aspired to serve “book deserts” in New York City. In 2018, we expanded our programming to include pop-up shops and targeted book distribution in multiple boroughs, including East Harlem, Little Haiti, and The Bronx, offering readings and signings featuring authors. One of our early partners, Miriam Bridenne, Deputy Director, Albertine Books in French and English, said: “We were delighted to partner with SpeakEasy to serve the newly designated Little Haiti neighborhood in Brooklyn. The Haitian diaspora community has little access to books in French and SpeakEasy offered us the perfect vehicle for allowing us to reach this population.”

On the Road

In 2019, in collaboration with several partners, SpeakEasy launched the “Poetry to the People Tour,” a 4,000-mile cross-country odyssey featuring stops in 18 cities, offering readings, workshops, and book give-aways along the way. Over the course of two weeks, we distributed over 5,000 books to children, families, and communities across 14 states, establishing new partnerships and making hundreds of new friends. Author and literacy advocate Terry Tempest Williams described her first encounter with the bookmobile: “In a sentence, [the bookmobile] is hope on wheels. I have seen nothing like this before. I wept when I witnessed the joy of seeing a free book placed in the hands of a child for perhaps the first time. Never have we needed a vehicle with a vision like this magical bookmobile more than we do now in this beautiful, broken country of ours.”

Parks, Plazas, Fairs & Festivals

SpeakEasy Bookmobile thrives on partnerships. Whether it’s in collaboration with NYC’s Department of Transportation and the city’s Greenmarkets initiative or partnering with the Brooklyn Book Festival at Borough Hall and Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza, SpeakEasy’s bookmobile meets readers where they live, in neighborhoods where access to books is limited, and in areas where our featured authors’ books are most desired. Our recent partner Kavita Sing Gilchrist, founder of Made for Me Books, had this to say: “The bookmobile has been incredible. Partnerships are so important. I couldn’t be here today without House of SpeakEasy. Every kid grades K-12 was able to receive at least three books, all of these amazingly diverse titles. It feels really good to be getting these books into these kids’ homes.”

Back to School Programs

As we emerge from the pandemic, SpeakEasy looks forward to serving communities hit hardest by COVID-19. We are partnering with the New York City Housing Authority to deliver books, backpacks, and school supplies to familiar in mulitiple boroughs, such as at Taft House in East Harlem: The event featured a “build-your-own-bookbag” opportunity for students, all whom received at least three books curated from along with bookbags and school supplies with support from Council Member Diana Ayala, who said this: “We’re really into activating public spaces. We wanted to do something that brought a little light of positivity in a time that feels so dark. To be able to hold a book in your hand and smell the freshness of it, to be able to have that excitement of getting a new bookbag and supplies, it brings a lot of joy to the families that we service.”

“On the day of the event, hundreds of youngsters and staff happily brought home their signed new books, with the voices of these inspirational global authors in their heads, and the smiles of all those who share in the joy of reading in their memories. This is just one example of the impactful work SpeakEasy fosters, bringing multiple communities together, bringing out collective narratives, and celebrating the written word in meaningful, innovative ways.”
— Hazel Joseph-Roseboro, Principal, University Heights High School

To learn more about our bookmobile initiative, or to get involved as a volunteer or as a program partner, please get in touch by emailing [email protected].