Renowned Detroit Bookseller and Educator, Janet Webster Jones, Awarded the 2023 Voice of the Heartland
The boards of the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association and the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association are honored to present Janet Jones, owner of Source Booksellers in Detroit, MI, with the 2023 Voice of the Heartland Award. This award is given in recognition of individuals and organizations who “uphold the value of independent bookselling and have made a significant contribution to bookselling in the Midwest.”
Detroit, MI — Janet Webster Jones, a trailblazer in both education and bookselling, has been honored with the prestigious 2023 Voice of the Heartland Award. Her lifelong commitment to fostering a love of learning and promoting literacy within her community has earned her this well-deserved recognition.
Janet's journey is closely intertwined with Detroit's history, mirroring the city's triumphs and struggles. She witnessed the rise of the automobile industry and the subsequent Great Migration, which transformed Detroit. Her story echoes the city's vibrant cultural history, from the Motown era to the challenges posed by suburbanization.
Janet opened her first brick and mortar store, Source Booksellers, inside the Spiral Collective – a shared space with three other women-owned, African American businesses on Cass Avenue and Willis Street in Detroit's Midtown area in 2002.
In 2013, as Detroit faced bankruptcy, Janet seized an opportunity to open Source Booksellers in the Midtown district, contributing to the neighborhood's revitalization. Her bookstore has always focused on history, culture, health, metaphysics, spirituality, and literature by and about women. Janet's commitment extended beyond selling books; she actively promoted titles on vital topics, such as water resources and racial history, making Source an essential hub for social discourse.
Janet's life's work epitomizes dedication to service, education, and community building. Her story is a testament to the legacy of women who have played pivotal roles in creating and sustaining Black-owned bookstores throughout American history. Through Source Booksellers, Janet continues to envelop her community in knowledge, care, and love, leaving an indelible mark on the literary landscape.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with Janet and her team for the past decade, but she was championing bookselling and reading throughout Southeast MI long before that. I first called on Janet on a cold winter day in February 2014 – Detroit was just starting to emerge from its economic woes and the Cass Corridor in midtown was on the cusp – with Source anchoring a neighborhood on the rise. What I remember most that day is the warmth and acceptance radiating from Janet and the team for every patron walking through the door – including myself. Janet led Source through its most impressive feat by pivoting during the pandemic in previously unimaginable ways with an online store, virtual events with leading voices in the social justice movement and doubling their physical space. Another important reason Janet deserves this award is the groundwork she has laid for other Indies opening in the Detroit area. A mentor to these younger booksellers, Janet’s impeccable taste in great books and tireless grit make for a great role model for the bookselling community. Congratulations Janet – keep smiling.”
- John Tewsley, Sales Rep (IPS)
“There is never not a time when I'm visiting Source Booksellers and Janet Jones isn't planning for something. Usually, it's planning for an event later that evening -- an author talk, a community discussion, a panel of thinkers -- that always, inevitably, enriches our home city's intellect. Or she might be planning to order more books from local authors, as they routinely sell out based on her recommendations to customers. Janet is always busy -- and in the best way possible, because Source is a crucial part of not just Detroit's literary scene, but one of the city's premier small businesses period. Her commitment to education and enlightenment is why people keep coming back over and over, always served with warmth and care.”
- Aaron Foley, Journalist and Author
“Janet Jones is the absolute best sort of independent bookseller. She fell into it naturally after a career in teaching when she found herself continuing to teach informally by selling books on folding tables at events. When she opened her modest bricks and mortar store, she, in her words, "was answering the needs of people." Which is the best way to come to bookselling. She understood that "the business has to be meaningful in the community where it is." For these reasons and so many more--her clear sense of purpose, her erudition, passion for what she does, her kind encouragement of young BIPOC booksellers, her prioritizing of mission over profit--I can't think of a better person to receive this recognition.”
- Kris Kleindienst, Owner (Left Bank Books, MO), 2022 Voice of the Heartland Winner
“Janet Jones, founder of Source Booksellers, is an exemplar of the entrepreneurial spirit, the wisdom of elders, and concern for community. She is a reflection of perseverance and academic striving within the Black experience in Detroit. Dedicated to the love of books - even in the midst of increased E-readership - she is a pillar of Midtown Detroit redevelopment, and engagement with ideas, connection and counsel. She has been a mentor in my life as a writer, and I am ever thankful for her presence when I cross the threshold of the bookstore that she runs with her daughter – their generational legacy. She is the very definition of a Voice of the Heartland, in her amplification of literary voices, in Detroit and beyond.”
- Marsha Philpot, aka Marsha Music, Detroitist, Writer and Poet
“I always feel like I'm in the presence of royalty whenever I interact with Janet: Book Industry royalty, Detroit royalty, African American royalty, woman-owned business royalty-- but without all the pomp and circumstance, because she also feels like family. I'm never at a loss for something to talk about with Janet... and really, books just end up being the catalyst for the good conversations. So, it never feels like a job. Source Booksellers is legendary. And I'm so lucky to have been able to peer behind the curtain and meet the queens running the place!
- Chris Conti, Creative Producer & Manager (MASS Moca Research and Development Store)
“Janet is someone that I really admire. She has brought books to her community for years, and still has the drive and energy of someone who is just starting out in the industry. Top that off with her spirit of generosity with everyone she comes in contact with, and you have someone who is an example to all of us of what it means to truly connect people through books.”
- Tim Smith, Operations Manager (Schuler Books, MI), GLIBA Board President
Janet has been someone I have admired from the moment I met her. Her work within the community is remarkable and has helped to change the face of the Detroit literary scene. This accomplishment or her work as a judge for the National Book Award alone would make Janet worthy of the Voice of the Heartland Award. But on top of her professional and community-driven accomplishments, Janet is one of the most generous, loving, welcoming, and motivating people you will ever meet. Every conversation with Janet leaves you happier, more peaceful, enlightened, and optimistic. Janet is a rare individual who is truly kind and effortlessly generous with her time. We are a better community because Janet is a part of it.
- Larry Law, Executive Director (Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association)
The Voice of the Heartland award is a collaboration between the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association and the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, who come together each year to produce the Heartland Fall Forum – a trade show for independent booksellers across the Great Lakes and Midwest. Voice of the Heartland is an annual highlight of the joint awards celebration hosted at the trade show.
Ms. Jones will be presented with the award during Heartland Fall Forum in Detroit at the Heartland Booksellers Award Ceremony, on Wednesday, October 18.