At Edelweiss, we fervently believe in the power of books to engage, enlighten, and transform our world. We also know that systemic racism has intentionally marginalized communities of color, which has prevented the book industry from reflecting the diversity of our world.
We're doing our part to be part of the solution by launching a nonprofit, Edelweiss Legacy. Through our internal equity work, decades of experience, and a series of townhalls with BIPOC booksellers we've learned that supporting independent BIPOC-led organizations, while investing in the next generation of book lovers is one way we can help ensure that everyone's stories are valued.
We spoke with Edelweiss Legacy Executive Director Nuola Akinde and Program Coordinator Caleb Haag about the nonprofit's current work and future goals, how folks can support Legacy's mission, and what "erasing the margins" means to them.
What is the story behind Edelweiss Legacy? Can you share some of the history and inspirations behind the founding of the nonprofit?
Nuola: In 2020, Edelweiss launched the Treeline 2020 initiative. This initiative, later called Ascend, was created to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in publishing and technology industries. This was accomplished through investing in organizations that are already doing this work well, providing access through internships and scholarships, and amplifying under-supported voices. After two successful internship cohorts, Edelweiss’ Director of Strategic Partnerships, Linda Duggins, and President, Annie Rubin, determined the best path forward was to develop a non-profit organization. Our nonprofit, Edelweiss Legacy was incorporated in 2023.
What is your role at Edelweiss Legacy? How did you become involved in the organization?
Nuola: I was hired as Legacy’s founding Executive Director after working with Edelweiss first as an equity consultant for a couple of years, and then as their Director of Employee Success & Education. I feel incredibly lucky to be in this role which feels like the integration of so many of my passions and interests.
Caleb: My role at Edelweiss Legacy is the Program Coordinator, which means I work directly with Nuola on what projects to focus on and how best to achieve those goals. I became active in this role after being on the Support team at Edelweiss for a year and with a background of working at an independent bookshop, my love of helping bookshops really shined through and as a Native American, it seemed like a perfect fit.
Edelweiss Legacy is committed to “erasing the margins in the book industry.” What does that mean to you?
Caleb: As book lovers, I think we’d all like to believe that the business is as empathetic and open as we are, but unfortunately that’s just not the case. The book industry is filled with as much institutionalized racism and discrimination as any other world of business, which is where the “erasing the margins in the book industry” comes in. To me that means doing all we can to amplify the voices too often overlooked, including providing educational resources for marginalized groups to become professionals in the book world.
Can you share more about this summer’s internship program? Who are some of the partners that you are working with?
Nuola: We have such an amazing group of partners this year, and are really grateful for folks being willing to collaborate with us. We’re working with Rock Inked and Tessera Editorial, who hosted interns with the Ascend program. We’ve expanded into relationships with bookstores all over the country: Afri-ware Books, Fulton Street Books & Coffee, Reparations Club, Socialight Society and 1977 Books. Last, but not least, we also have our first publishing house partnership with Spirit Bound Press.
What makes you excited for the future of Edelweiss Legacy?
Nuola: I’m most looking forward to seeing the ways that emerging leaders will continue to reimagine the way stories are told, and what access, equity and justice can look like in the book industry specifically, and the world at large. I think all non-profits strive to imagine a world where their organization is no longer needed, and that’s our ultimate goal as well.
Caleb: I’m excited to see this thing become a mainstay in the bookselling world, where bookshops, publishers and editors vie to partner with us to develop interns and better prepared individuals for the book world.
If folks are interested, how can they get involved with Edelweiss Legacy or help support its work?
Nuola: We’re still looking for Board Members, so if you’re a BIPOC book lover and are interested in discussing joining our board, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Folks interested in applying for a future cohort, or possibly hosting interns should reach out to email@example.com. Finally, if you’re interested in making a donation, please check out the donate link on our website.
What are you currently reading? Are there upcoming books that you are really looking forward to?
Nuola: I’m a huge fan of romance, especially Black romance, and recently read a bunch of books by Farrah Rochon, and Pride and Protest by Nikki Payne. I also just picked up The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, which isn’t a romance, but I’m looking forward to reading it.
Caleb: It’s a little embarrassing but I’ve finally started All About Love by bell hooks and it’s absolutely amazing-- the type of book if I tried to describe to a friend I would make it sound terrible because it’s so much more than just a book. As for books I’m looking forward to, there’s Black Punk Now edited by Chris L. Terry and James Spooner, and then also The Waltz of Reason by Karl Sigmund, which doesn’t come out until December 2023, but that’s how much I’m looking forward to it.