We Are LIT Brings Multicultural Awareness Through Literature

by Moya Tobey | Photography by Two Eagles Marcus

Words are powerful; they can weave together a story worthy of tears. They can influence voters. They can topple governments and kindle the flickering flame of revolution. The value of a well-written story is difficult to measure, and not always appreciated. Kendra McNiel understands just how precious stories can be.

In November 2017, she launched her pop-up multicultural bookshop We Are LIT at the Women Who Write Author Showcase.

The idea for the bookshop came from her experiences as an avid reader and traveler. 

“As a traveler I like visiting bookstores,” McNiel explained. “When I started thinking about a store of my own, I noticed that Grand Rapids was lacking a bookstore that focused specifically on multicultural books. I kind of combined my love of reading with my love and travel and learning about different cultures.”

In October 2017, McNiel was encouraged by a friend to pursue her idea and have her first pop-up at the Women Who Write Author Showcase at Aquinas College, which was taking the next month.

“Everything came together in a 30-day power crunch,” McNiel laughed. 

When I started thinking about a store of my own, I noticed that Grand Rapids was lacking a bookstore that focused specifically on multicultural books. I kind of combined my love of reading with my love and travel and learning about different cultures.”

— Kendra McNiel, founder and CEO of We Are LIT

In the space of a month, she managed to put together the pop-up business. Since then, McNiel has been operating from her website (wearelitgr.com) and appears at various locations across the state, including a monthly appearance at the Downtown Market.

At We Are LIT pop-ups, one can find books that fit McNiel’s missions to expose the Greater Grand Rapids area to multicultural literature. Each book is hand-picked by McNiel and ranges in genre from children to cooking to self-help and everything in between. 

“A lot of what I curate is based off of interactions with other book lovers,” McNiel said. “I participate in book discussions with individuals across the country on different platforms, and that all kind of shapes the We
Are LIT inventory and the overall feel of the store.” 

Originally, McNiel didn’t plan to sell children’s books, but quickly found a demand for them. Now, they are her biggest seller. While the stories in the children’s books sold by We Are LIT are typical of any children’s book, the characters are representative of minority communities and issues.

McNiel hopes that someday her business will grow big enough to fit in a permanent space. Until then, she enjoys doing pop-ups and serving the Grand Rapids community through wearelitgr.com 


Moya Tobey is a college student studying publishing at Cornerstone University. She dreams of traveling the world, fighting for victims of injustice and penning everything she sees.

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