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Photo by Laurie James

One of the largest Black-owned bookstores in the entire Southwest, The Dock Bookshop has been celebrating Black History Month every business day for 16 years. Since opening in an unassuming space in a Meadowbrook strip mall on the East Side in 2008, sisters Donna and Donya Craddock have created a hub for Black culture, life, and literature throughout North Texas. Although the last decade and a half haven’t been without challenges, the siblings have succeeded. Their latest victory? Prime Time himself, NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, has chosen The Dock as the location of one of his few North Texas stops during his current book tour.

Older sibling Donna says The Dock is a labor of love. “It’s not something you get into for a lucrative business. We fill a particular niche. We lift up African-American voices, and so a lot of literature is in that lane, but we embrace all voices.”

Dock co-owner Donna Craddock loves that kids of all colors, shapes, and abilities can find a book about someone like them at her store.
Photo by Laurie James

On the day I caught up with the Craddocks, they were beginning to wind down programming for Black History Month while getting ready for Women’s History Month or, as they call it, Women’s Herstory Month. As part of the bookstore’s mission, it’s a great space for events other than book signings, including community meetings and performance art. Every Tuesday, Dock Open Mic Nights showcase poetry, spoken word, music, and comedy, allowing “local artists to share their gifts,” Donna said.

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Many national figures have visited, most recently Actor/politician Hill Harper, who was at the bookstore to promote his book The Conversation, about how men and women can build loving, trusting relationships. The Dock’s March lineup features Beto O’Rourke and his tome We’ve Got to Try on March 10, and March 16 is when Prime Time stops by, reading from, signing copies of, and selling his title Elevate and Dominate.

Sanders is “a dynamic personality and a great motivator,” Donya said.

When asked how a small retailer in a quiet suburban neighborhood pulled a heavy hitter like Neon Deion, who could easily command a staggering appearance fee, Donya said that many small bookstores across the country are the beneficiaries of celebrities pushing local. “People are becoming intentional about supporting local businesses.”

As Dock co-owner Donya Craddock’s favorite genre, Black dystopian fiction has a place at her bookstore.
Photo by Laurie James

To RSVP with a purchase of Elevate and Dominate, visit TheDockBookshop.com.

Along with the open-mic and evening with Sanders, other upcoming engaging nights at The Dock will start with what Donna calls “HerStories: A Celebration of Women’s Herstory Month and International Women’s Day.” The Craddocks are also planning a Sister Sunday event –– more information will be available soon on the bookstore’s website.

Next month, it’s Prime Time at The Dock Bookshop.
The Dock Bookshop via Facebook

 

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Only about 20% of all businesses nationwide are owned by women, and of the approximately 300 independently owned bookstores across the country, less than 5% are owned by Black people. While The Dock has earned national accolades, nothing has been easy for this two-woman operation. Being unique has helped. The tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Aubery around the time of the pandemic galvanized the general population, many of whom probably did not know there was a Black-owned bookstore in their midst.

“The murder of George Floyd on TV — the public was just traumatized,” Donna said. “It caused some people to want to learn more and engage more and stop the violence against Black people.”

She added that white people came in to show support, to help, and to better understand what was happening and how they could effect positive change.

During the pandemic, people of all colors and creeds visited The Dock for critical information.
Photo by Laurie James

Another push came from celebrities recommending shopping local, like Martha Stewart.

The famous homemaker’s team, Donna said, “came out and said if you really want to understand and want to connect, start with locally owned Black bookstores in your community.”

The Dock appeared on one of Stewart’s lists of “good things” in 2020.

Located in an Eastside strip mall, The Dock Bookshop is a hub for Black culture and life.
The Dock Bookshop via Facebook

 

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The post-COVID, post-Donald Trump years have been marked by a rise in censorship that feels unprecedented, and The Dock has both seen and felt the weight of this over the last two years. Donna said that while the American Booksellers Association celebrates Banned Books Month in October, she and her sister have become aware of a larger issue that isn’t confined to a single month.

“People don’t want to deal with the history,” she said. “We have customers coming in asking about banned books, and we point to the whole store and say, ‘Pretty much all of them.’ ”

The creep of nationalistic, conservative-led anti-anti-racism into public schools has actually changed some textbooks. Donya calls this a “manipulation of language,” adding that “it’s a mass rewording of culture and watering down of history.”

Donna adds that a robust collection of reading material of all kinds is “more about representation for everyone — it’s not about you necessarily, whether you like what the book says or not.”

“That’s why we need the independent booksellers,” Donya added.

When I asked the women to pick their favorite titles right now, they both laughed. The Dock is a dream for any bookworm, with rows and rows of well-organized, seemingly endless selections for almost every reading taste. How could anyone choose? Donya said she’s more interested in Black dystopian fiction, while Donna favors historical fiction and their extensive children’s section.

The Craddocks are leading the literacy parade with the Trinity River Book Festival.
The Dock Bookshop via Facebook

Another reason this woman-owned bookstore is crucial (not just during Women’s History Month) is that historically, women writers’ voices have not been heard, whether they’re Black, white, brown, red, yellow, alive, or dead. Even in the not-so-distant past, female authors used their initials or male-sounding pseudonyms to publish under, but from Donna Craddock’s perspective, that hasn’t been the case for a while.

“Women authors are on a roll,” she said. “I’m excited about where we’ve come from.”

During March, The Dock has added an appearance by Michelle Stimpson, whose latest book, Sister Greens, is about more than cooking.

“It’s a new day and a new age for Black authors,” Donna said, “even if they’re on the banned books list.”

After a busy February and March, the Craddocks are looking forward to celebrating the bookstore’s 16th birthday in May. They’re also recruiting sponsors to launch the third annual Trinity River Book Festival in September. The event kicks off with a Run to Read in Trinity Park.

Donya, newly returned from a conference for Reading the West, a program of The Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association, is also relishing the opportunity to feature local and regional authors. She said The Dock “caters to the local rodeo scene with Western literature,” which has its own section near the front of the store.

“It’s about putting Texas on the forefront,” she said. “It takes us being in this space to tell the East Coast and West Coast not to leave us out. It’s about carving out our place in the literary world.”

The Craddocks made news when they opened The Dock Bookshop nearly 16 years ago.
The Dock Bookshop via Facebook

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