What happens when a passionate reader/book content creator notices that Black readers want to attend in-person Black literary events but they don’t know where to start?
You get BookMeThere– a site dedicated to keeping Black readers informed about events happening within the Black literary community. The site has a curated list of events that include: author signings, literary festivals, and other bookish gatherings tailored to the interests of the Black Book community.
Founder, Jaleesa aka JalessaReads is a book lover and content creator based in Atlanta, and she’s passionate about promoting indie authors–specifically Black indie Romance authors.
After attending a few Black literary events Jaleesa realized readers wanted to attend more events but there was no central place for them to get the information. And instead of just talking about the problem–she created a solution.
We caught up with Jaleesa to learn more about how her passion for reading led her to create content for books and an entire site that promotes Black literary events.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
SGBC: Being an avid reader is one thing, but you took it a step further and began to promote and make content for books. What made you lean in to promote Black literature?
Jaleesa: Honestly, I kind of fell into book content creation/promotion. I was on TikTok following Bama Rush and I kept seeing videos from “BookTok.”
So I decided to search “booktok [B]lack romance,” just to see what books/authors the girls were talking about but there wasn’t really anything there. There were a TON of videos discussing a series that did feature Black FMC’s [female main characters] but it took me scrolling for a while to find someone talking about actual Black Romance.
It felt like people didn’t even really understand what Black Romance was, so I woke up one morning and decided I was going to try to get Black Romance, specifically written by Black Indies on the radar. It’s much easier now but when I discovered Black [i]ndies in 2016 I was shocked.
I couldn’t believe that the stories I had been craving were not only being published, but published in abundance. I just wanted to do my part in letting everyone know. I was only planning to be on TikTok but then I was forced by Taima (@shadesnpages) to make a Bookstagram and eventually, I created a separate Twitter [account] for books as well.
I never really had a plan, I just wanted to make sure I did my part in letting the people know our stories, told by our authors were out here.
SGBC: When did your love for reading begin and what has been your most memorable bookish experience?
Jaleesa: I’ve been a reader my whole life thanks to my mom. We were at the library every Friday night, she was a heavy reader and made me one too. I got all the pizza parties and free Six Flags tickets in elementary school!
Honestly, and please don’t laugh at me, but my first Indie Love experience when it took all my common sense not to have a fangirl moment when I got to the front of CCJ’s [Christina C. Jones] line and she was like “Hey Jaleesa.”
Same with Alexandra Warren and Danielle Allen, they just greeted me like we’d known each other for years. That will always be my most memorable experience for so many reasons.
It was my first book event and I went by myself. I didn’t know what to expect, but I had a great time. I was shocked that these authors actually knew my name. Like, I’ll never forget that and the energy from the authors and the other readers in attendance just made me feel so welcome.
It was the first time I truly felt like I was a part of this community and not just someone looking in from the outside. LOLLLLLLLLL
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SGBC: Tell us about BookMeThere? Why was it important for you to create this space and what do want to see it become?
Jaleesa: BookMeThere is my little baby. I’d started talking about Black Book Events heavy on TikTok a couple weeks before Indie Love and I got so many comments about never hearing about it or any Black Book Events in general.
At first I was just going to do bi-weekly updates for events and keep the links in my linktree. Then I had the opportunity to host Me + My Romance Friends, and in talking to the ladies there I picked up on two things, the first was that we had a TON of women who were just discovering our community and getting back into reading.
The second was that everybody did not know who I was, therefore they were not following me and wouldn’t have seen the information I was sharing. So I wanted to create a space where anyone could get this information easily.
I LOVE book events, being in community with other readers and the authors we adore is so important to me and I want everyone to have the opportunity to experience that.
My ultimate goal is to be THE website that readers visit when looking for Black Book Events information and a place for authors to get the word out about events they’ll be attending.
SGBC: When adding bookish events, are there any requirements for them to be promoted on the BookMeThere site and social media handles?
Jaleesa: The only requirement is being a Black Book Event. There are some larger conferences that won’t be featured on the site even though Black authors will be in attendance.
Now, if those authors submit the information about their appearance at one of those conferences, I’ll absolutely include that information, but we are keeping it very BLACK and bookish at BookMeThere.
SGBC: Think back to the inception of BookMeThere, what were some key features you wanted the site to have?
Jaleesa: I won’t say I had any key features in mind at first. I was only planning to create an IG [Instagram] page with a link tree. I reached out to Dimonique, to help with my logo and in talking with her she was like I think a website would be better.
I just wanted to keep things very simple, lay the events out, and make sure anyone who visited our site would easily be able to get to the website for the events we had featured.
I wanted to make sure we didn’t limit our site to big events only, I wanted to make space for author signings and appearances too. There are a few features I’m fleshing out now to be added in April, but we’re still in the early stages. One feature I’m really excited about and I think readers will appreciate it!
SGBC: BookMeThere also highlights authors, in the future, do you plan to add additional services for authors?
Jaleesa: To be perfectly honest, when I thought of BookMeThere it was only for the readers. I didn’t necessarily think there was anything I could offer authors but I was wrong.
I’ve had a few brief conversations and based on those I want to also create space for authors to find out about upcoming book events where they can attend as a featured author. I know they sometimes don’t know about events either, so I want to keep them as informed as possible.
SGBC: I consider you an activist for Black authors and readers, how do you balance having fun with literature while also keeping people informed on real issues within the literary community?
Jaleesa: Well first, thank you. There is so much mess when it comes to the publishing industry overall. What I try to do is say what I have to say and then get back to the books.
I think it’s important to inform people about issues but I also don’t want to give anything negative too much energy. I think that’s come back to bite us a few too many times.
There are a few topics that come up every 3 months like clockwork, that I’m just refusing to engage with going forward.
SGBC: When thinking about the Black literary space, what do you want to see more of in the future?
Jaleesa: I want to see more authors outside. I think one of the things I’m so excited about with 2024 Black Book Events specifically is the lineups are different from previous years.
We’re getting a chance to meet and support newer authors while some of our faves are still in the mix. I think it’s important for authors to not limit their interactions with readers and other authors to Facebook groups and Bookstagram.
Like, come outside. If you aren’t a featured author but an event is in your city, COME OUTSIDE. I know everyone isn’t as extroverted as me, but I promise you’ll have a good time and I can pretty much guarantee when you leave an event you’ll want to get to another one and you’ll pick up some new readers too!
SGBC: What five things should readers consider when attending an in-person literary event?
Jaleesa: Dress cute but comfortably, there’s a lot of standing and walking around so you don’t want to be uncomfortable.
Pre-orders are important, it’s the only way to make sure you leave with the books you want.
If you have traveled (by plane) to an event and you buy a lot of books, ship them home. You don’t want to pack the books because they are heavy and you don’t want to walk around the airport with them in your carry-on.
Create a buying plan, and have an idea of how much you can spend. It’s never worked for me but I admittedly have zero self-control when it comes to books.
The most important thing is don’t be afraid to come to an event solo. I know it can be intimidating, but I can promise you won’t stay alone for long and you’ll leave with some new book friends.
SGBC: If you bumped into a Black woman on a bus and she asked what five books should she read by Black authors, what would you tell her?
Jaleesa: I am like the least decisive person when it comes to books, so this is difficult but I’m going to keep it Black and Indie.
Baggage Claimed by Alexandra Warren, Anonymous Acts by Christina C. Jones, Bookmarked by Bella Jay; Tempted by Danger by Endiya Carter and Catching Flights by Ladii Nesha. That was harder than I thought it would be, I usually ask follow-up questions before recommending a book.
Sistah Girls, it was great talking to Jaleesa, follow BookMeThere to stay in the know for all Black literary events.