librairie Maktaba bookstore Montreal

Sundus Abdul Hadi and Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman. Photo by Hamza Abouelouafaa

The Maktaba bookstore and boutique in Old Montreal aims to inspire

“The concept is a bookshop and boutique, where we can be surrounded by the work of people who inspire us, and therefore offer that inspiration back to the city.”

Maktaba is a brand new bookstore located on St-Paul Street in Old Montreal, officially open for the first time today. Aside from a curated collection of books on different subjects by a diverse range of authors, the boutique sells limited edition Maktaba apparel and vinyl, and serves as the headquarters for the collective We Are The Medium, founded by Maktaba owner Sundus Abdul Hadi and musician Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman.

Lorraine Carpenter: What was your concept for the space as a space?

Sundus Abdul Hadi: Maktaba started being dreamed up about five years ago after I rented a pop-up on St-Laurent Blvd for a week-long exhibition and series of events I curated called Take Care of Your Self, involving the work of 28 artists of colour whose work intersected with care and struggle. The experience was like a gift that kept giving; the project itself was my research-creation project for my MA in Media Studies at Concordia University and later turned into my book Take Care of Your Self: The Art and Cultures of Care and Liberation (Common Notions, 2020). During that week, I heard from so many visitors that this ephemeral exhibit was a much needed space, and filled a cultural void that was necessary to occupy in the city. After the exhibit closed, a seed was planted — and it has now flowered into Librairie Maktaba. The concept itself is a bookshop and boutique, where we can be surrounded by the work of people who inspire us, and therefore offer that inspiration back to the city. The floor seating (majlis) area is a dreamy space where I imagine many important conversations will be had, and moments of inspiration being sparked. In all, entering Maktaba is an experience; it is an extension of my and Yassin (Narcy)’s inner creative world and our expansive community.

LC: How would you describe Maktaba as a bookstore?

SAH: At the moment, Maktaba’s shelves are inspired by books and authors I love, that have impacted me as an artist, thinker and human being. I can talk about almost every book I’ve stocked and that is important for me. They are books meant to inspire, ignite imagination and spread knowledge. The vast majority of the books are by deeply-rooted authors (or writers of colour). The categories are thoughtfully curated and titled, such as Theory & Thought, Everything Is Political, Dreams and Magical Realism. We have books, magazines and artist-run brands that have never been sold in this part of the world.  I have whole sections dedicated to Octavia Butler and Edward Said, and a children’s book section called Children Are the Future.  As the doors open and we welcome in our community, I’m excited to see the shelves evolve with other readers’ recommendations. Books are conversation starters — everyone’s got a book that changed their life, or that shifted their perspective in one way or another. We also have a small but growing library that readers can sit and browse in our majlis. 

LC: How do you envision the future or the evolution of Maktaba?

SAH: Maktaba is already a dream project for me. I’ve approached it as I have any other art project I’ve done in the past, and my work up until now has greatly informed how I approached the business side of things. Yassin and I have always been on the other side of the industry — as writers, artists and lovers of culture — so I’m really enjoying creating spaces for books, writers, artists and brands that have made the margin such an exciting place. Our work with We Are the Medium has always been intentional, intuitive and fiercely independent. With a bird’s eye view of industry, and suspended in diaspora, our intention is to give back what we have received from culture. Shining a light on the margins doesn’t make them marginal anymore… it’s the centrepiece of what we do, and what we hope to share with our city. Given our central location on St-Paul street, our goal is to make Maktaba a destination location, for Montrealers, newcomers and tourists alike.

For more on Librairie Maktaba (165 St-Paul W.), please visit the We Are the Medium website.

For more Montreal arts coverage, please visit the Arts & Life section.