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This DC-Area Pop-Up Bookstore Specializes in South Asian Fiction

Kahini Books will pop up in Vienna this weekend.

When Ryanna Quazi was growing up in Texas, she remembers “just feeling seen and so well-represented” when she read South Asian books. In May of this year, she launched Kahini Books, a pop-up and online bookstore that highlights South Asian fiction. It will have its next pop-up at Vienna OctoberFest on October 1, from 11 AM to 7 PM.

Quazi, whose parents immigrated to the US from Bangladesh, moved to the Washington area in 2019 and lives in Georgetown. She works in public health and is getting a master’s at George Washington University. There’s no place she’d rather open a bookstore, she says: “One of the things that drew me to DC was not just my day job, but I loved that in this area it’s cool to read; it’s cool to be smart.”

Kahini offers both new and used books. Outside of books with South Asian representation, Quazi highlights other books that have not received extensive attention. She finds books with less than 10,000 ratings on Goodreads or books that have not made The New York Times or USA Today Bestseller lists.

Quazi hopes to open a physical store one day but for now will stick with pop-ups at festivals and markets, where she pays vendor fees to set up a booth. She also sells used books, and tries to sell as many books as possible for under $15. “I know sometimes it’s just not possible for people to buy a brand new book for $25,” she says.

South Asians have seen a lot more representation in movies and TV over the past few years, Quazi says, mentioning Indian Matchmaking on Netflix as an example. But books, she says, hit differently than other media, and two books she’s especially proud to have carried are Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin and Brick Lane by Monica Ali. “The fact that you’re sitting there for hours, imagining the story in your head, and you’re imagining who these characters are,” she says, “I think it has a different emotional impact on you.”

Katie Kenny
Editorial Fellow