Well Read Black Girl Festival 18
On November 10, Well Read Black Girl hosted their second annual festival in Brooklyn New York. Our Philly PTW Meetup group made their way to New York to take part in the day-long conference for Black women readers and writers alike.
The day was filled with great conversation from the likes of Jacqueline Woodson, Mahogany Browne, and Blair Imani among many others, books from an array of Black writers and representatives from major publishers.
The center of the day really swirling around the release of the Well-Read Black Girl Anthology edited by WRBG Founder Glory Edim. It posed the important question about first recognizing yourself in literature and left many in the audience pondering the same thing.
So we wanted to share a few thoughts from writers that attended from the Philly Meetup group. Enjoy below and tell us in the comments when you feel you first saw yourself in literature!
Jeneen Owens, Words By Design
I’ve always loved to read. Once I learned, I wanted to read everything: books, street signs, magazines, billboards, the back of the cereal box while I enjoyed a bowl of Cap’n Crunch. I’ve never not had books around. The full bookcase in my house was as normal to me as having in-door plumbing. The bookcase was in our living room between the porch door and the staircase so when you entered our home or descended the stairs you encountered books. I remember the white cover of the hardback copy of Roots by Alex Haley sitting prominently on the book shelf. I tried to read that book. At age seven. It felt too big in my little hands. I wasn’t ready but I was ready. In elementary school, I was forced to read texts that I found boring about characters that did not look like me, about their dogs, and about prairies. It bothered me that most of the books that were offered to me were about little girls who babysat or boys with their dogs. I was neither. Nor did I know people who were. And on the cover of all of these books were white children. All of the illustrations were of white children which made me feel like those books weren’t really for me. I did, however, like the Encyclopedia Brown books and Choose Your Own Adventure books. I realized early on that I enjoyed books with smart characters and I enjoyed engaging books where I could solve problems. I’d found books to satiate a part of me. Yet, I had a difficult time finding books with interesting subjects that included people who looked like me and that were age appropriate. I needed to see that we (me, my family, my community) existed in other aspects of life.
I never didn’t have books, and it feels as if I never didn’t know how to read although I remember learning. It’s not lost on me how blessed I am to be a Well-Read Black Girl, having always had the privilege of literacy and access to written worlds outside of my own. I came to understand this only after asking myself a question I never before thought to ask.
The theme and question asked in Glory Edim’s Well Read Black Girl Anthology “When did you first see yourself in literature?” features answers in the form of essays from dynamic Black women writers including; Gabourey Sidibe, Mahogany Brown, Barbara Smith, and Zinzi Clemmons. The question seems as if it is one that’s as simple as asking “Who was your first kiss?” Except, answering the question for the first time for me was asking to revisit my relationship with books and first peel back the pages of where I didn’t see myself.
Ashley Coleman, WriteLaughDream
Although the question posed in the newly released Well-Read Black Girl anthology was, “When did you first recognize yourself in literature?” I couldn’t help but seem to think about not necessarily feeling representing on the annual festival stage.
In their panel discussing the new book led by author and WRBG Founder Glory Edim with contributors Mahogany Browne, Renee Watson, Veronica Chambers, Carla Bruce-Eddings, and Bsrat Mezghebe, they all read from their essays and discussed the most influential literature in their journeys. Of course, the James Baldwins and Toni Morrisons were immediately mentioned, which led me down a hole of thinking about my own influences.