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How Glory Edim’s online book club provides community for ‘invisible’ black women

Glory Edim is the founder of Well-Read Black Girl, a book club that has transformed into an online community and literary festival, all celebrating voices that otherwise might not be heard. She talks with Jeffrey Brown about her original goal of making new friends, seeing herself in literature and creating community through books in the age of social media.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A good book can be transformative. In an age of social media and a growing popularity of book clubs, what we read can also help create communities.

    Jeffrey Brown explores all this with Glory Edim, who has created a space to celebrate voices that might not otherwise be heard.

  • Glory Edim:

    The Well-Read Black Girl is an online community and book club that focuses on black women writers.

    We really focus on building and amplifying the voices of black women, especially debut writers. And so we have a festival, a book club and an online presence. So you can participate in various ways.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Was it an obvious idea to you?

  • Glory Edim:

    No.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    No?

  • Glory Edim:

    It was a very unexpected idea.

    It was actually a gift from my partner, Opiyo. He made me the shirt that said "Well-Read Black Girl," and I found myself in conversation with so many different women. And it sparked the idea that I should actually start something with this.

    What does it mean to be a well-read black girl?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    You mean conversation because they were seeing your T-shirt?

  • Glory Edim:

    They were seeing the shirt on the subway, in the grocery store, at the gym. First, they inquired, where do I get the shirt?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Right. Cool shirt, good shirt. Right. Right.

  • Glory Edim:

    Right.

    And then it was like, so who are your favorite authors? And who are you reading? Naturally, we went to Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Maya Angelou. We talked about the literary greats that really influenced the black canon.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes.

  • Glory Edim:

    And then it started, so what are you reading now? What are the new writers that are on your bookshelves?

    It was really a curiosity thing. In the beginning, it was quite selfish. I wanted to make new friends.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Glory Edim:

    And, as I did that, it grew, and I built the Instagram, and the presence on Instagram grew. And it just got larger and larger.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    But it clearly tapped into some need, hunger. What?

  • Glory Edim:

    Oh, completely.

    It was a yearning. A lot of times, black women, we are invisible in spaces. And when it comes to the publishing industry, there's not always an avenue for women to become writers or to understand what the dynamics are.

    And it just became like a cheerleading squad those who want to do the writing and want them — people to buy their books. It just happened really seamlessly.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So the anthology, you asked all these writers that kind of question.

  • Glory Edim:

    Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Sort of, when did you first see yourself in literature?

  • Glory Edim:

    Exactly. Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Because that was the way into…

  • Glory Edim:

    Well, that was the origin story for me.

    I have always been a person to question and to look for myself in books. My favorite book is Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." And that was the first time I really saw myself on the pages of a book.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Meaning what?

  • Glory Edim:

    In terms of reflection, understanding the dialogue, having someone that felt and looked like me on the page. I had read a lot of "Little Women." I saw myself in Jo March. I read "Wuthering Heights."

    But, before that, I don't think I really saw an accurate reflection of a young black girl coming of age, until I read Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. "The Bluest Eye" is such a classic for so many young black women.

    It was a turning point for me to really understand that the story of black womanhood is one of survival and true — and just excellence as well.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    It's an interesting thing. And the one thing that books, we often say, those of us who are readers, is, we find ourselves in others.

  • Glory Edim:

    Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    I mean, we learn about ourselves, even if we're not represented in that story.

  • Glory Edim:

    Oh, completely.

    Just practicing this muscle of seeing yourselves in someone else's story and building a stronger perspective. And a lot of these stories, whether it's Jesmyn Ward, or Jacqueline Woodson, or Tayari Jones, they are really looking at their origin stories, and what led them to become writers, and what that helped them really see their own stories in the books that they read.

    And I think that's really important. Like, you need that reflection for anyone.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So what surprised you when you started getting the responses, or excited you?

  • Glory Edim:

    Oh, well, the — all the tributes to Toni Morrison.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Well, yes.

  • Glory Edim:

    They were just so beautiful.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    How could it not happen, right?

  • Glory Edim:

    Yes. It's Toni Morrison.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Right. Right. Right.

  • Glory Edim:

    So, she was really a highlight in the collection.

    And, also, not all the stories were dedicated necessarily to black women. Barbara Smith writes about James Baldwin and how his words really helped her become a writer.

    There's one writer, Bsrat Mezghebe, she writes about Roald Dahl and how reading the member "Boy" was fundamental to her experience. So it's not necessarily just about seeing an exact reflection, but to make sure that these symbols have meaning and they feel significant.

    And you can really just explore. Like, reading is — feels to me like an exploratory practice. And you should be able to find characters and stories where you can fall into.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    These are all, of course, writers. These are women who became writers.

  • Glory Edim:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    How much did you see their origin story connecting to the writers that they became?

  • Glory Edim:

    Oh, yes, completely.

    I mean, I think of Jesmyn Ward. At the end of her story, she says she didn't — she read this one book, and it wasn't until she wrote her own that she was able to really…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    That's right.

  • Glory Edim:

    It was such a profound statement and a powerful way to end, that it compelled her to want to write and tell her own story.

    And I think that is the takeaway from the anthology, that we should be telling our own stories. And we need to be persistent with that, and not — not give up.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    We have been talking so much about the writers, but this, as you said, started with readers right?

  • Glory Edim:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Who are the readers?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Glory Edim:

    There are so many readers.

    In the anthology, I have lists of reading recommendations. And I did that very intentionally, because I was thinking about my younger self and the things that I wanted to read. I always — I didn't always want to read "To Kill a Mockingbird." I wanted other alternatives.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Right.

  • Glory Edim:

    And this book has a list about black feminism, black playwrights, speculative fiction, black coming-of-age stories, poetry.

    It is a full listing of how to reimagine the literary canon. And there's no excuse to say, like, I don't know what person of color I can introduce to my syllabus or to my high school classroom.

    I think of it as hopefully a great tool for young people and educators.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    You still have an actual book club, right?

  • Glory Edim:

    Yes, I do. Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    For all that…

  • Glory Edim:

    We do have a book club.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    This old-fashioned book club thing, right?

  • Glory Edim:

    Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    You get together, and…

  • Glory Edim:

    It's great.

    I think, for me, having the book club is a great lesson in listening. I really love to listen to everyone tell their own story and how they relate to the characters.

    So, my favorite part, I love doing social media, but being able to sit next to a reader and look them in the eye and persuade them to maybe like a character a little bit more, I love that back and forth.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, the Well-Read Black Girl book club and now the "Well-Read Black Girl" anthology.

  • Glory Edim:

    Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Glory Edim, thank you very much.

  • Glory Edim:

    Thank you so much.

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