3 Lessons I Learned In My First Year of Reading Only Black Authors
Happy New Year
As the days moved closer and closer to the new year, we all expressed a sigh of relief. "Please let 2017 be better." 2016 was long and turbulent for many of us. And as I finished my #yearofblackbooks, the question of what to do next was on my mind.
Where do I go from here?
I've been thinking about this since June and over the last six months, I've talked to a lot of different people. Ultimately the decision to continue with this "experiment" or adapt the content was up to me. I would always be "Black and bookish" no matter what I’m reading. But as Shonda Rhimes concluded with her Year of Yes, why stop something when it's made such a positive impact in your life?
So this is my YES to Black books, Black writers, and reading as a revolutionary act. I also fell in love with reading again.
Black & Bookish will continue to be a place to celebrate literary Blackness because I fell in love with this site and this work. This project changed the way I looked at my own Blackness, as well as examined what books we choose to read.
Here are the 21 books by black authors I read in 2016:
There seemed to be no end to my book buying, so many of the books I profiled will be added as the year goes on. Besides a lot more reading material and less shelf space, here are three things I learned on this year-long journey:
I was terrified over nationwide police violence and overwhelmed with trying to decide what I could do to help. This fear turned into anxiety and I essentially locked myself in my home for most of the summer. More than one person dismissed my thoughts as irrational, overzealous, and unjustified. Now I was not only paranoid that I was in danger but that people thought I was making things up to get attention.
I could see the evidence with my own eyes and eventually, I was able to provide that evidence for someone else. That's when I knew I was on the right path and that my efforts were working. Although I didn't think of it as a protest at the time, that's exactly what I was doing.
This outlet allowed me to create reviews and celebrate a part of me that seems foreign to those around me. I started to get support from people I would meet at events and through comments on the blog. The isolation I felt started to melt away and I could focus on more outreach efforts as the year went on.
It gave me Clarity
I assumed Black books are books with a different skin, like me. And in a way, it is. And it's not. I came to hate bookstores because I never find what I was looking for. Sales associates weren't helpful and the idea of searching for books by the author's race was upsetting to them.
While some of my friends wanted to tell me I was becoming obsessed with Blackness and oppression, this process gave me the language to speak to how I was my feeling. I became closer with my husband and children because I could finally express the nuance of my life. I discovered authors I had never heard of and changed my reading habits. I met with writers looking for an outlet to continue creating and learned some of the most upsetting statistics about publishing and People of Color.
The places described in these books felt more like home than my apartment. Books filled with Black souls felt more real than the Los Angeles street I lived on. I made friends though these reading lists and can see the value it brought to my life. I want my kids to know these characters and love them the way I do. Reading for fun became equal to reading for knowledge and I started to feel whole again.
I Found Humanity
While I'm not any better at defining "Blackness" than when I started, I am better at showing you what I knew was there all along. I'm coming to see that we don't have fundamental differences so much as we live fundamentally different realities.
Reading Black authors and writing these reviews became one aspect of this massive movement. Some of us are holding back the violence, some of us are feeding the children, and some of us are sharing our history and knowledge so those coming up behind us know what we're all fighting for.
I finally could see the nuance of living with the shared history of Black and Brown ancestors, and what that means for so many of us now. What it means to be a Black mother or sister, or a mixed-race daughter or son. Many of us are looking for something bigger than ourselves and Black & Bookish provided that community for me.
Unexpected changes uprooted my life at the end of 2016 and I hope I'm ready to take on this new role. I decided to take all I've learned from my first year of Black books and grow this movement exponentially. I'm now in the business of Black books, Authors of Color, and spreading the good news.
I hope that you join my community and find it's also a celebration of you. Of your Blackness, of your lives, and of your hearts.
Have you taken on a special reading challenge in the last few years? How did it change your reading habits?