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Meet The Black Folx Helping You Fall (Back) In Love With Reading

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Some of you read a lot. Y’all be reading reading — stacks of books as tall as you are, from cover to cover. Frankly, I’m impressed and a little jealous of your discipline. Me on the other hand? My reading list is longer than my actually-read-it list. Apply that euphemism about one’s eyes being bigger than their stomach and you have an accurate picture of my apartment: sprawls of soon-to-be read pages from my bookshelf to my bedroom. Call it a paper trail of good intentions. 
Years ago, when I made the decision to read more, to reconnect with the younger version of myself who loved to read, I decided to focus my attention on Black writers. The curriculum I was exposed to at PWIs prioritized a version of American life that excluded my reality. Despite taking advanced English courses, the only book by a Black author I remember reading is Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Outside of the classroom, while I devoured books about girlhood like The Babysitter’s Club and The Clique series, it took me a while to find where the Black girls are inside books, where I was on the page. I didn’t know where to turn to at first, but thankfully, with a little help from book clubs, mutual aid initiatives, book-related newsletters, and social media accounts, I found not only who to read but tips on becoming a better reader.
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I’m grateful that today’s Black kids aren’t going to have to wait until their 20s to find more representation in books the way so many of us had to. Inside the walls of their classroom, Fayola Fair promotes literacy and readership to their students via their Black Book Bulletin, a rotating visual newsletter of books for us, by us. The newsletter features Black authors across the diaspora and the gender spectrum. Fair, who is a ninth grade social studies teacher and community organizer, is also the curator behind the Instagram account and mutual aid project Reading for Black Lives. Launched during the pandemic at a height of political unrest, a time when Black folks felt particularly isolated, the Reading for Black Lives Project began as a selected readings for racial justice and healing. It has since expanded to a mutual aid program where Black folks can request a book mailed to them.
Fair's project is a direct descendant of the vast literary mutual aid projects that come before it. Book clubs, and book mutual aid programs have been helping me and other readers spruce up our bookshelves and update our TBR lists. Glory Edim’s Well-Read Black Girl has leapt from a book club to a literary festival that celebrates Black women writers. Noname’s Book Club has evolved from a monthly book club of political education and liberatory reads and now distributes their book club picks to incarcerated members through their Prison Program. They also have established The Radical Hood Library in Los Angeles that is stacked with free books and other resources. The Radical Hood Library is one of several book programs created to maintain safe space for Black folks to read, resist, and rest.
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“Black women are writing graphic novels. They're writing speculative fiction, they're writing romance. They're writing books on how to manage your budget. They're writing books on how to travel, solo and be safe. They're writing books on choosing to be child free. They're writing books on everything.”  

OlaRonke Akinmowo
The Free Black Woman’s Library, founded by visual artist OlaRonke Akinmowo in Brooklyn, is also in continuation of the legacy and tradition of Black consciousness raising of its predecessors. It has expanded to sister chapters throughout the country, a dedicated Patreon community, and a soon to be physical reading room. At the heart of the program is community participation. The way to borrow a book from the Free Black Women’s Library is to bring a book, written by a Black woman, in exchange. This is a way to highlight the broad range of books Black women are writing. “Black women are not a monolith,” says Akinmowo. “Black women are writing graphic novels. They're writing speculative fiction, they're writing romance. They're writing books on how to manage your budget. They're writing books on how to travel, solo and be safe. They're writing books on choosing to be child free. They're writing books on everything.”  
In addition to projects like Akinmowo's free library program, bloggers are highlighting good reads by Black authors. Bookstagrammers like Cindy Allman, better known as @BookofCinz across social media platforms, amplifies the diversity within Black communities across the diaspora. As a Jamaican woman based in Trinidad and Tobago, she promotes books by Black women, Caribbean women or women of Caribbean heritage, and other women of color. For the past four years, Allman has been leading BookofCinz Book Club, a hybrid online and in-person monthly reading group. 
When people tell Allman that they don’t have time to read, she simply tells them that they haven’t found the right book for them. “Every year, I see more and more Black women getting published. I see women from different backgrounds getting their debut novels done.” As a book club curator, Allman prioritizes access. “I try to keep it short, I try to make it something that we'll disagree about, or have a lot of things to talk about,” she says. 
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For people looking to get back into reading, Allman suggests starting with a short story or anthology collection. A personal favorite of hers is Alexia Arthurs’ How to Love a Jamaican. “When I read [Arthurs], I’m like, there’s my mother, there’s my father, there’s my next door neighbor, Auntie so-and-so. It feels very familiar. It feels like home.” Similarly, Akinmowo stresses the importance of balance. “If you read Corregidora by Gayl Jones, you'll be like, oh my God, this is the saddest book I've ever read. So after you read that, read The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus, a love story about two beautiful black girls.” For years, The Free Black Women’s Library’s Reading Challenge has been helping folks find their way back to reading and switching up what they read. 

Considering American history, it makes these various book projects that much more sacred and that much more integral. Whether we’re clutching a steamy romance novel or slowly working through a cultural essay collection, reading is political.

Danialie fertile
When asked what her favorite genre is, Cree Myles, who runs Penguin Random House’s @AllWaysBlack page, unequivocally shouts fiction. “I think fiction is really important because we don't give our imaginations enough credit for what they would be able to do if we use them,” she asserts. Myles' bookstagram career began when she was a twenty-something, searching for “what books can start revolutions.” In doing so, she focused on most of our Black literary matriarchs and subsequently, felt seen. She adds, “when you read The Bluest Eye, and you see all of the different levels [Morrison] touched around classism, colorism and pretty politics…this was written so long ago and still holds all this water. It validated a lot of things that I wasn't sure if they were real or not. So then it just gave me permission to take up more space, you know?”
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Medge Joseph (@wordslike.mine) knows. Like many other Black women, Joseph shares that her time in college helped her foster a love for Black literature and find more of herself. She says reading the struggles that the character Dana endures in Octavia Butler’s Kindred helped her think through the role she’s played in her family as a daughter in a Caribbean household. Reading through the Black literary canon, from bell hooks to Toni Morrison to Octavia Butler, is “like being called out and called in,” Joseph offers.  
Joseph's reflections on how critical texts by Black women writers have helped her grow as a woman as well as Myles' sojourn through the Black literary canon speak to the importance of collective memory. We are at an interesting time. On one hand, books are becoming more accessible today in various formats, from paper bound to audiobooks and e-readers. There are so many more ways to discover and engage new ideas, and book programs make the experience less lonely.
At the same time, book bans across the country are targeting books written by marginalized writers in some way, whether it’s because of one social identity or another. When I see more and more books by queer and trans Black writers and Black women writers being targeted, I can’t help but to think of a time in America when it was illegal for Black folks to even know how read. Considering American history, it makes these various book projects that much more sacred and that much more integral. Whether we’re clutching a steamy romance novel or slowly working through a cultural essay collection, reading is political. 
We have a right to be on the page at our own pace.

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