During the darkest period of my life to date, and by a strange twist of circumstance, I had the delightful experience of staying at a bed & breakfast in Harlem. Strange sentence. It was under a shroud of sadness that I came to stay at this bed & breakfast, but the time there was irreplaceable and meaningful in many ways -- not least because of the swell guy who rents out the bottom floor of his brownstone as an apartment for visitors, which also houses his unbelievable bookstore, open “by Appointment, Invitation or Serendipity.” On 160th street between St. Nicholas Avenue and Edgecombe, just west of the Harlem River, sits Jumel Terrace Books, at the peak of the cobblestone street. Directly across 160th rests the stately Morris-Jumel Mansion (the oldest house in Manhattan) where George Washington was headquartered for September and October of 1776.
Jumel Terrace Books is owned and run by Kurt Thometz, a scholar, collector, and enthusiast of African and African-American literature. Beyond that, he is an expert on a wide berth of philosophy, but has a keen interest in the human transition from orality, to illiteracy (which is a concept in itself) and through to literacy and our modern ways of thinking, communicating and transmitting thought from person to person.
During our two days staying with him, effectively living in his bookstore and sleeping in the beautiful basement apartment in the next room over, he was kind enough to show us around Harlem, teach us a great deal about its history, and he spent hours talking with me, recommending literature, music, and relating stories from his life’s-wealth of experience.
While there, I was so taken by all of the book covers and art around us, I had to capture as much as possible. Many of the following photos are grainy, but were the best I could do in the half-light of the bookstore with a borrowed iPhone. The images start from the street, looking into Kurt’s bookstore at night...