Valerie Chelangat's love of reading started at a young age. Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya (she moved to Winnipeg in 2010, at age 21), her mother would bring home books from the public library each week and encouraged Valerie and her brothers to read them. She still remembers her favourite: a series of small yellow books that told the stories of scientists who made major discoveries throughout history.
Today, Valerie hopes to inspire that same love of reading in others with Tusome Books.
The online bookstore carries stories by authors from Africa, Asia and the Middle East and books with subject matter about those places.
More recently, its proverbial shelves have been stocked with Canadian Indigenous authors and a number of general interest books that cover issues affecting marginalized populations. Tusome [too-so-meh] is a Kiswahili word that means 'let us read'.
Supporting local booksellers is so important, and this is especially true for Tusome, which aims to promote diversity in literature, exposes readers to books outside of their familiar worldview and works to eliminate harmful stereotypes.
We asked Valerie to share her favourite things about Winnipeg, why diversity in literature is important and her book recommendations for children and adults looking to expand their reading lists.
What is your favourite thing about Winnipeg? Do you have a favourite restaurant?
I absolutely love the liveliness of Winnipeg summers from the food trucks, festivals and plays. There’s such a vibrant feel in the air when summer comes around.
529 Wellington is one of my favourite places. I like the privacy it affords with their various rooms and the ambience. Because I am not rich, I can only afford their lunches so my girlfriend and I go there at lunch for fries and tea.
Has Winnipeg been a good place to start a business?
Tusome Books is an online bookstore and accessible across Canada, but Winnipeg is great because we have a very strong sense of community, which definitely helps me as a bookseller to feel connected. Also, as the saying goes, charity begins at home; I feel that it is only right to begin to encourage diversity in reading here.
Why is it important to offer literature from African, Asian and Middle Eastern authors?
While everyone’s life experience is different, we are shaped by our cultures, backgrounds and our understanding of the world around us. When we are exposed to books outside of our worldview it informs our interactions with others.
I felt that when I was searching for books I often struggled to find titles outside what is normally referred to as “mainstream” (even when they are in stores, they aren’t highlighted to the same extent) so I wanted a store that gives the limelight to these books. I hope that through literature we can eliminate the stereotypes we often buy into about other places and people, and familiarize ourselves with their true nature.
When readers visit Tusome Books they access an array of books by really amazing authors who don’t often get as much credit as they deserve. One of the goals of the bookstore is to expose readers to literature that enables readers to expand their understanding of the world outside of stereotypes and to connect with others who are passionate about learning and eliminating biases.
What is one title from your shop you’d recommend? Perhaps a recommendation for someone who hasn’t read many African, Asian or Middle Eastern authors before.
It’s really tough to limit my answer to just one title.
Considering we are going into Black History Month, my recommendation for children from my bookstore would be Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o. It tackles the issue of race and colourism so it’s a great read even for children outside of its recommended age range of four to eight years.
For adults I recommend Souvankham Thommavongsa’s How To Pronounce Knife which is a collection of short stories about the immigrant experience. Thommavongsa, who was born in Thailand, is a Canadian poet and short story writer. Her book is a great place to start because Canada is a country of immigrants. Reading some of these experiences opens our minds to the challenges faced by immigrants.
Will Tusome Books remain online or do you have plans for a storefront?
I go back and forth on this to be honest. I love my online bookstore because it’s easy to manage and not too costly. I however long for a space where readers can go to explore books and connect. My ideal physical bookstore would include bookshelves and coffee and studio spaces for workshops, book clubs and arts.
What’s next for Tusome Books?
My immediate goal is to expand my inventory to all marginalized voices including LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities, and generally to have a much wider selection of books. I also plan to include a selection of books in different languages.
Tusome Books is also running a virtual book club from February to July 2021. Any readers who are interested in reading titles from around the world are welcome to join the Across the Globe in 6 Months Facebook group.