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By Andrea Ruggirello
“It all started with a dream.” That’s how Lucy Yu begins the story of her bookstore, Yu and Me Books, on the store’s website. “My dream was always to create a home that I never found in a bookstore growing up,” she continues.
Yu and Me Books is located in Manhattan’s Chinatown and is the first Asian American woman-owned bookstore in the city. Yu opened the bookstore in December of 2021 with the goal of showcasing immigrant stories. In just a few months, Yu and Me books has hosted readings and book signings; served coffee, beer and wine; and distributed free pepper spray and safety devices to hundreds of people after years of heightened violence toward Asians and Asian Americans in the city. It has quickly become a haven and a hangout for the Chinatown community—and beyond.
We Need Diverse Books chatted with Lucy Yu over email to learn more about what the bookstore owner experience has been like, the response from the community, and, of course, book recommendations.
For our readers who haven’t had a chance to or can’t visit Yu and Me Books, what words would you use to describe the space?
It’s like spending time sitting in your friend’s living room and looking through their bookshelves while chatting with them!
What has surprised you about being an independent bookstore owner?
So much! I had no idea what to expect, but as a small indie bookstore owner, you really are doing so many jobs. You are the whole receiving team, purchasing team, bookseller, barista, supply chain manager, and accountant. I have learned so much from opening up my own business and I continue to learn more every day.
What kind of response have you gotten from the local community about the bookstore?
It has been incredible and beyond my wildest dreams. When I was first planning to open it up, I really didn’t know who was going to come or if anyone was going to show up (I really considered paying my friends to come sit and pretend like people shopped there). But it has become this lovely community space where we can all show up for each other. We have all been able to feel seen here and feel less alone even while we are still experiencing all that is going on around us. The NYC Chinatown community is the neighborhood I have most felt at home in throughout my life—it has welcomed me with open arms and I hope I have done the same for it.
What have been the moments where all the hard work of opening and running a bookstore has been worth it?
One of our first events with Join the Cosmos was a community reading series that we hosted monthly where we had AAPI women and femmes share their work. At our first reading, so many readers said they’ve never shared this work of theirs before because they never felt comfortable enough in a place or audience to do so, and that just broke my heart. I felt so proud that we are all able to find a home at my store and also sad it took so long for us to find a place to feel so comfortable.
Who are some dream authors you’d love to have for a bookstore signing or reading?
I’ve been so grateful to have met some of my dream authors (and I had to try my best to act normal). Ocean Vuong, Mary HK Choi, Celeste Ng, NK Jemisin, Akwaeke Emezi, and Fatima Mirza.
Your bookstore focuses on promoting immigrant stories. What impact do you hope to have on immigrants by showcasing their stories?
I hope they feel less alone and that kids now can feel less isolated growing up. I hope that we can proudly say that our stories have always been important and deserved to be told. When my mother first came here, she didn’t have much to start with, and I hope that when future immigrants come here, they can read these stories and feel that they have more support.
You and your bookstore have already done so much for the Chinatown and Asian American communities. What role do or can bookstores play in racial justice movements like Stop AAPI Hate or Black Lives Matter?
I believe everyone can help play a role in racial justice movements, and bookstores are messengers for stories. We can only learn more empathy by sharing our stories and hopefully all can see our stories as important.
If someone walked into your store and asked for excellent books that are under-the-radar or maybe published by indie presses, what are a few recommendations you would make?
Another Appalachia by Neema Avashia
A Place for Us by Fatima Mirza
Love War Stories by Ivelisse Rodriguez
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
You’ve Changed by Pyae Pyae Moe Thet War
Andrea Ruggirello‘s stories, essays, and poetry appear or are forthcoming in Gay Magazine, Zora, Hobart, The Baltimore Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Electric Literature, Catapult, Third Coast, and elsewhere. She has an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University, and her novel manuscript was a semi-finalist for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. Andrea was born in Korea, adopted as a baby, and raised on Staten Island, NY. She lives in Washington, D.C.