Glory Edim, 31, has always been an avid reader. In buses, subways and store lines she seemed so absorbed by the book in her hand that women asked her what she was reading. The conversations inspired her to start the Well-Read Black Girl Instagram account in 2015. Then, she created a newsletter. It was well received and followed, in 2016, by a book club for black women like herself who lived by and for the words of black female writers. In 2017, she inaugurated the Well-Read Black Girl Festival, that brought more than 300 readers to an auditorium in Brooklyn. It was again a hit last year, and it’s scheduled to happen next September.
Her curatorial work now extends to an anthology of essays titled “Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves” . The essays, which avoid oversimplifying the experiences of black girls and women, and are diverse and beautifully complicated, aim to answer the question: “When did you first see yourself in literature?”
In this book, she highlights black literary achievement by offering first-person narratives from noted writers, activists, and intellectuals along with recommendations for further reading. In each essay, the contributor discusses her relationship to reading books, and the world, yet each bears the unique experiential imprint of the woman who wrote it.
Edim’s love and respect for black women and their stories make it possible for this book to sidestep the danger of convening based on blackness and woman-ness alone, as she appears to have thought carefully about what the 21 contributors bring to a textual conversation with each other. Each essay can be read as a dispatch from the wonderfully complex location that is black girlhood and womanhood. These women provide detailed and fascinating insights into their early lives as readers and go beyond the typical list of inspiring figures. They present literary encounters that may at times seem private and ordinary — hours spent in the children’s section of a public library or in a college classroom — but are no less monumental in their impact than the incredible privilege of growing up in the presence of influential black female writers and artists.
Another prominent thread in the book is the intense dissonance of black girls growing into an understanding of racism, misogyny, heterosexism and classism, in addition to other forms of structural violence. The essayists reckon with their younger selves’ pain and confusion while consuming media that actively erased or misrepresented them. Feminist activist and scholar Barbara Smith opens “Go Tell It” by writing, “The first thing to understand is the fifties. What it was like to be a Black girl (in truth a ‘Negro’ girl) in the 1950s. A Black girl who loved to read.” Smith’s literary and lived worlds were characterized by the consistent onslaught of a “blizzard of white,” until her aunt lent her a copy of James Baldwin’s “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Baldwin’s words allowed her to see what was possible as a queer black woman who also wanted to write.
Well-Read Black Girl” does more than “bring Black women writers – and readers – to the forefront,” or write black women into “spaces that neglect or ignore us,” as Edim writes in her introduction. Rather, these essays support each other’s work, not as collectibles rendered visible or easily consumed by non-black audiences, but as an acknowledgment of black women as architects of their own futures and universes.
WELL-READ BLACK GIRL- Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves – by Glory Edim
Ballantine Editors – 272 pgs., $20
Information about The Well-Read Black Girl Festival: Pioneer Works,
159 Pioneer Street, Red Hook. Or go to https://pioneerworks.org