I believe there are two gifts that writers give young readers. First, they build vividly rendered worlds for readers to fall in love with and fall into. Second, they create characters that are so real, distinct, and familiar to the young reader that the reader has space to imagine him-or herself in that world during the reading and after they are done. When I read my childhood books, I felt a part of those worlds intensely while I was reading. I felt an invisible sister in the narrative. But coming out of the books was hard for me. – “Magic Mirrors” – by Jesmyn Ward
I can relate to what Jesmyn Ward said completely and so can many others. Reading a good story can transport a reader into a world where they can sing, fly, empathize and feel real love until the last page has been turned. Coming out of the story is an entirely different thing. And in Glory Edim’s anthology, Well-Read Black Girl, writers of works we all love tell their stories about the books they’ve never forgotten.
I am a fan of Well-Read Black Girl, which began as a Brooklyn-based book club and has become so much more. Ms. Edim, the founder of Well-Read Black Girl, has created an online community that celebrates literature by Black writers as well as sisterhood. Ms. Edim is serious about that celebration, posting photos on Instagram of books readers may not know about and by also starting the first Well-Read Black Girl Festival in 2017. The festival, which this year takes place on November 10, is a must and I plan on attending (stay tuned for my posts and photos from the event).
As I read through Ms. Edim’s anthology and read each writer’s essay, nodding my head in agreement at why they love a particular book, I thought about the one that has stuck with me. Until I read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, I only knew about authors like Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, with Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights being my absolute favorite book. But that all changed when I read The Bluest Eye. That story changed me and, with the help of my mother, I explored more black authors like Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston. My mother was instrumental in making sure I knew about these writers and others, and along with my 20th-century writing professor at NYU, I also read works by other writers of color, such as Haruki Murakami, Paulo Coelho and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Reading primarily white authors, even great ones like Jane Austen, is very limiting. Although I loved the stories, they were just that. Stories. Make believe. But when I read stories by Black authors, their work became real because the people in the stories were like me. And as I’ve continued my reading journey (because that never ends), I’ve read more and more stories that put me in the middle of it. I can only imagine how I would have felt if Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone had been available. I envy the young black children who read that story for the first time, experiencing the description of a magical people with dark skin, having dominion over fire, water and other elements.
Well-Read Black Girl is one of those books that you keep in your library and read it again and again. The women who contributed to this anthology are women of different ages, economic and social backgrounds, women who found themselves in the stories that stayed with them. I read an advanced copy of Well-Read Black Girl but have already purchased the finished version because I need to have this book with me. I need to read the words again and again and feel connected to the women who express the love they have for books and stories. If you also long for that kind of connection, Glory Edim’s anthology is just the one to do it for you. I highly recommend it.
I read an advance copy of Well-Read Black Girl through NetGalley. The book is available now at your local retailer or library.