The Sistah Girls Book Club
Every time I tell someone that I have a book club I am met with either a blank stare or they seem genuinely interested. Book clubs are still viewed by millennials as something only “older people” are into. One summer when I was about nine, I was placed on punishment and could not go outside, this was like death back in the day because the internet was not what it is today. Outside was still the place to be, I remember it was Easter break and I had gotten into trouble probably for being sassy (I always had to get the last word). This particular weekend I really didn’t want to be on punishment because my next door neighbor was hosting her annual Easter egg hunt with the neighborhood kids. Yes, I am from “da hood” and yes, even in the hood we have community…shocker I know.
Because I was on punishment I was going to miss the egg hunt. I lived on the first floor and I had my own room. My room window showcased the back of the building which was where the egg hunt would take place. I got the bright idea to come up with a deal. I always thought I was slick. I told my mother that if I read an entire book by the time the egg hunt was supposed to take place then I should be able to go outside. My punishment in my head was reading the book.
My mother agreed to my little arrangement and I picked up a Goosebumps book by R.L Stine. I delved into the book, at first I was reading to finish, and then something happened, I was thoroughly enjoying the book. By the time I looked up I had finished this amazing but scary story and read it before 5pm. I told my mother of my accomplishments, of course she thought I didn’t read the entire book and quizzed me. Sure enough she was shocked that I had read the entire book in less than a day. I thought I had won; all she did was give me another book.
I didn’t get to go to the egg hunt that year but I had developed a passion for reading. Yes, I loved going outside but I also loved being engulfed in the world of my own imagination mixed with the authors story telling. That year my mother bought a lot of R.L Stine books, and then a teacher introduced me to Judy Blume. I vividly remember reciting, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust,” and believing that somehow someway that line would work. In between those authors I was introduced to poetry, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou were two of my favorites. At a young age I enjoyed being able to say words that empowered me. I went to a private Christian school that taught Black children their history.
At nine, I had already memorized the famous poem, “Still I Rise.” Maya’s words empowered me and I didn’t even grasp the meaning of her poetry. But I liked how I felt when I spoke her words. I always wanted to be chosen to perform one of her poems. (I was very dramatic so I usually always got the part). “Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise? That I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs?” I remember reciting those lines in assembly while saying the entire ‘Still I Rise’ poem by Maya Angelou, I felt like someone had given me superpowers. And best of all she was a black woman. She looked like me, in my young mind that meant she wrote those words with me in mind. Time passed and I kept reading, reading helped me to focus, but most of all reading helped me to escape. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth and often times it wasn’t the safest to play outside. Reading allowed me to dream and it kept my mother’s mind at ease knowing her child was in the house safe.
By the time I got to high school reading literature of any kind was something I did as a hobby. Whether it was a poem, short story, novel, autobiography I had literature somewhere. I was not a nerd or even the girl curled up in the corner being anti-social. I have always found it weird that people assume people who enjoy reading are these quiet, shy, introverts who just don’t associate much with the rest of the world. (No shade to the quiet and shy) That was never my story, it might be now though (an entire different post) but I hosted talented shows in school, was the chairperson of my yearbook, and was voted most popular…just saying. I think a lot of times younger people don’t want to be labeled as boring because they read…so not the case.
I grew up, I put the Judy Bloom books down, and was now interested in this new genre…Urban Literature. I read Shakespeare and all of his pals as homework assignments. I excelled in English without trying, so even though the stories were interesting (Love & Hip Hop has nothing on a Shakespeare novel) I didn’t really see me. And then came Sistah Souljah with ‘The Coldest Winter Ever,’ and Omar Tyree with ‘Flyy Girl.” I remember an upperclassman loaned me those books and I was hooked. Finally, my young mind was able to read about people who walked, talked, and acted just like me. My mother of course had no clue that my ninth grade self was reading all of these urban novels…I ate them up. Every last one, there wasn’t an author I didn’t read. I remember a woman from my old neighborhood wrote a book and made a girl we knew from around the way the model on the cover. (I thought she was famous because of it)
The books were everything to me, the stories, the fantasy of it made my young mind dance. In high school I was in a book club, started by me and my friends. We were not rich so one person would buy a book and we all took turns reading it. They would always loan me the book first and if I was the one buying I would read it first because I was a speed reader. Some may classify the stories as street literature, urban novels, hood books, call them what you want but they introduced me to a different form of storytelling. I read all genres but that genre spoke to me because of my environment, there wasn’t a character or a person I couldn’t relate to. When I entered college that faze had dried up some (I had read every hood novel known to man) and then someone dropped WEB DuBois ‘The Souls Of Black Folk’ into my hands to read over winter break my freshmen year.
That winter break I turned 18 (my birthday is late) and I remember reading so many Black history books that I came back to school not wanting a perm and joined the N.A.A.C.P Youth and College chapter on my campus. Each moment in my life looking back books were involved. Some were fictional and some weren’t. They made an impact on what I thought about, they made me aware of things going on outside of my own little bubble. They begged me to question things I would otherwise overlook, they even wiped my tears when the boy I was involved with (a fuck boy) broke my heart. I started the Sistah Girls Book Club without acknowledging it for those very reasons, these stories by these amazing authors need to be read. Sometimes we need inspiration and can’t find a mentor, I always tell people to read about who you want to be like. Their books are free mentorship. Sometimes we want to travel but can’t afford to go, read about the place where you would like to go.
Our Black History is left in books waiting for us to pick them up so we can understand who we are as a people. And last but certainly not least our love stories. I love a good romance story, they make me smile, I get lost, and just enjoy the journey of love that I am about to go on. This book club is something that means so much to me because books saved my life. That sounds very dramatic, but for every low point or really sad moment in my life I remember reading a book. Some were spiritual and some were novels that just took me away from my own reality. Black stories are very important to me, we need to see ourselves in all aspects of life. The media does a piss poor job at showcasing us in all of our glory. But book authors, they tell our stories, our poets show off who were are in our rawest forms, and I want to highlight that and have conversations around those stories.
So when people ask, why a book club? I often wonder how a person can even ask that question when our very being is a story in itself waiting to be told.
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I want to hear from you, email me the first book that made you fall in love with reading! ShareeHereford@gmail.com