“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
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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].