Tag: diversity

5×5: Celebrating Valentine’s Day with Black Romance Authors

Five authors. Five questions. One fight to the death. I’m kidding. We are in the business of uniting these five wonderful authors, not pitting them against one another.

It is my sincere pleasure to welcome you to the inaugural 5×5, a series in which we ask five authors of similar backgrounds five questions. With each installment, we’re changing up the topic and today we’re talking Valentine’s Day. That’s not all though, it being Black History Month, our romance authors are all authors of color and esteemed members of the Black Romance Authors Network.

We’re speaking to Synithia Williams, founder of B.R.A.N., and her friends and colleagues Sharina Harris, Cheris Hodges, Vanessa Riley, and Jacki Kelly. According to their page, BRAN was created as a place for Black Romance Authors to connect and collaborate in their writing and appreciation of romance novels, encouraging one another in the romance publishing industry. With this 5×5, we’ve got an amazing insight into what this does for them as writers, along with their thoughts on love, what it means to be a Black Author, and much more.

 

 

Why did you choose romance as your genre?

Synithia: I’ve read romance novels since I was in middle school. I love the genre and knowing the story will have a happy ending. I decided to write romance because I wanted to write stories about black people falling in love. There aren’t many portrayals of black couples having their happily ever after on television or in movies. I like to think I’m providing examples of stories about love, trust, healing, and forgiveness with black people.

Sharina: When I was a pre-teen, my mother’s friend gave me two big garbage bags full of romance novels and since that day, I was hooked. I quickly went to the library and stores to feed my addiction! However, I grew tired of reading about people who didn’t look like me. Then, I discovered Donna Hill, Carla Fredd, Francis Ray and Brenda Jackson! I so desperately wanted to grow up to be the intelligent, beautiful heroines these wonderful authors had written. One day I realized I wanted to write those heroines, too! Now it’s my mission to make my readers fall in love with my characters. But more importantly, I want people to feel empowered to find their happily ever after.

Cheris: Romance actually chose me. My parents, who have been married for over 50 years, were married on Christmas Eve. Talk about the ultimate love story. My father is a Vietnam Veteran and he proposed to my mother before he went into service. He married her while on medical leave after he was shot in the war. I lived their love story and I wanted to write about that kind of love. I also wanted to read about people who looked like me falling in love and getting a happily ever after. It’s not a far fetched idea to see Black people falling in love and being happy.

Jacki: I’m drawn to stories with happy endings, stories that don’t involve so much of what I hear and see in the news every day. When I read, I want to relax and escape into a world where the outcome is always positive. What better way to do that than romance? 

Vanessa: I believe that love is important as well as the promise that love survives everything. Romance is the literature of hope. I want to add hope to the world.

 

via GIPHY

 

What does being part of a community of authors of color like BRAN provide for you as an author? 

Synithia: I started the Black Romance Authors Network to give black romance writers a safe place to network, discuss the business of romance writing and share information. For me it’s been great to watch the members interact, branch off and start their own projects, and get together for meet ups. Writing can be lonely, and BRAN is a place where black romance authors can come together and realize they aren’t alone.

Sharina: BRAN is like your been there, done that sister, your wise auntie and your optimistic best friend rolled into one. As a black romance author there are so many things that we experience differently from our counterparts. Having this safe space to ask a spectrum of authors just about anything is super valuable. We brainstorm, we critique pitches, we motivate each other and celebrate each other’s success. And in industry in which black romance authors are often overlooked, underpaid and underappreciated, BRAN is vital.

Cheris: Being a part of BRAN allows me to interact with other writers who understand being a Black woman in the romance industry. There are things that we experience that other writers don’t  face. Also, BRAN is an amazing safe space where you are celebrated. Where you get that kick in the pants that you may need from time to time and a place where you can gain knowledge of the industry. What is most important about BRAN is the support. There is nothing like being in a group where people have your best interests at heart.

Jacki: It’s a place where I can share information or ask for help where I don’t feel judged or that doesn’t require a lot of situational explanation.

Vanessa: The sense of community in BRAN is so important. It can be an isolating life being a writer, with nothing but computer screens and characters chatting in your head. Having a place to get encouragement and sound advice is a blessing. Bran serves that purpose.

 

 

image via B.R.A.N. Facebook

 

What is your take on the fact that many romantic leads in novels and adaptations of those novels aren’t people of color? 

Synithia: It’s frustrating because I’d like to see more adaptations with people who look like me, but there are so many phenomenal writers creating romantic stories with people of color that I don’t have to only consume books with characters who don’t look like me. If Hollywood is too lazy to look at books by authors of colors for adaptation and continue to leave money on the table then that’s their loss.

Sharina: I just binged the documentary, They’ve Gotta Have Us that celebrates black cinema and boy do I have opinions and BIG feelings on this subject. Long story short, publishers need to acquire stories which are centered and who are written by people of color. In the Ripped Bodice State of Diversity in Romance report, 18 out of 20 publishers have 90% or more of their books written by white authors. It’s all systemic. We need more editors of color, marketing and sales etc. in the publishing industry. Editors are acquiring what is comfortable to them and what they think will sell. Films like the Black Panther has created another groundswell and thirst for content by black creators because 1: It made lots of money. 2: Black people were vocal about wanting diverse stories. In the past, Hollywood seemed to only focus on stories rooted in struggle and pain. The publishing industry feels so very slow. The ship is turning, but its taking a long time. I think publishers are starting to realize that there is a market and they can make a lot of money when they invest in us. I mean, The Atlantic reported a few years ago that the most likely person to read a book is a college-educated black woman so… yeah. Go figure.

Cheris: Representation matters. The sooner the industry starts seeing people of color as people and not other, the better. How none of the gate keepers learned from the success of Black Panther is baffling.

Jacki: It’s saddening. It’s almost as if our stories don’t matter. But there are so many writers of color that are putting our stories out there. We need more publishing houses or media moguls to recognize that there is a whole segment of people that want and needs stories about themselves, and movies about themselves and television program about themselves. And not just the stereotypical stories, because people of color fall in love too.

Vanessa: Romance is the language of possibilities. For a long time, people of color have been excluded from telling their stories. We are now at a point where people are seeing that diversity is something to embrace. The doors are being opened for more stories to be told with more characters of color. In the near future, my hope is that you’ll see more adaptations looking like real life. I write historical romance. I think as more learn of the hidden history of women and men of color having greater agency than slavery, of brothers and sisters being explorers, shrewd entrepreneurs, and leaders, you will see more sweeping portrayals of our ancestors.

 

 

What is your love language and does it influence how you write your characters?

Synithia: Hmm…my love language is quality time which does come through in my writing. I try to put my main characters together as much as I can and focus on the growth of their emotional connection.

Sharina: Yes! My love language is words of affirmation, which is entirely convenient for big black moments and the ah-ha, I-love-you moments.

Cheris: My love language is physical touch. This definitely influence how I write my characters. It gives me a chance to make a hug or the touch of their hands meaningful to what’s going on in their relationship.

Jacki: My love language is demonstrative. I want to be shown you love me by the things you do and say. I think in most of my books the characters do the same thing. Although I try to incorporate all five of the love languages, I do lean heavily on the physical side. 

Vanessa: My love language is “doing”. I know that love is being shown in the giving of time for someone. My characters are willing to sacrifice for the person they love. Big feat, small act—it doesn’t matter as long as they are “doing” in love.

 

If you could rewrite one classic romance novel with characters of color, which would it be and what would you do differently?

Synithia: I wouldn’t. They are what they are and since taking my last English class in college I don’t read the classics. (Sorry, not sorry) I’d much rather enjoy books by authors of color, past and present, or read a new take on an old idea than rewrite one. I’ve considered doing that, but always toss out the idea to focus on something new.

Sharina: I would love to do an afrofuturism version of The Princess Bride. I can have so much fun with the landscape. I think I would maybe set it in space and Westley is a space pirate. I’d also tweak the whole save the princess thing. I’d likely have them save each other. And my Buttercup isn’t going to take much of Wesley’s ordering her around—she’s going to be a beautiful badass! Important to note: I’d keep the black mask.

Cheris: There isn’t a classic romance novel I’d rewrite because I have too many of my own stories to tell. 

Jacki: Oh, this is a tough question. Because so many of the “classic romance novel” did not contain people of color, I did not read many of them. Of the few that I have read, I’d pick Romeo and Juliet, simply because I’d like the world to know that love in the black community is as passionate and important and all-consuming as what we see in that book. But of course, neither Romeo nor Juliet would die at the end. Their families would have a change of heart. 

Vanessa: I would do Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with the Darcy character changed into an heiress from the Caribbean and the Elizabeth character, now cast as Edward, one of five sons of a crass country vicar. This movie would offer a diverse cast and a sweet reversal of fortunes. Nonetheless, I think we would still need a lake scene with the buffed Edward arising from the waters ala Colin Firth.

If you want to read more from these incredibly talented women, be sure to check out their websites below. We hope your TBR list has just gotten longer, steamier, and far more diverse.

 

Image via Bookstr

 

Synithia Williams

Cheris Hodges

Vanessa Riley

Jacki Kelly

Sharina Harris

 

Featured Image via Bookstr


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You’ll Want This Book for your Kids

Hello readers!  Are you interested in a book for you kids? Well, look no further! Shaynae Clark, Detroit mother to Pierre Clark, a child with cochlear implants, has recently had her children’s book, We are Friends and We are Different!, published!  In it, she tells a story of different children coming together to be friends, despite their differences.

Clark’s book, according to the video above, is centered around children with various differences, because she seeks to teach the audience she is targeting that differences are ok in people; differences should not be the thing that defines who we can and can’t be friends with.

 

Clark’s book has gained inspiration from her son, who has Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder, where the inner ear successfully detects sound, but has a problem with sending sound from the ear to the brain.  As she has raised her child, she has embraced and understood what it meant to be an advocate for not only kids with cochlear implants but for other kids with disabilities and differences.

Clark says that her book is a good starting point for parents to begin important conversations with their kids about why people are different and to not be afraid of them.  If you are interested in her book, you may visit the amazon link above!

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Featured image via Amazon

5 Books by Black Female Authors

Before 1919, when women were given the right to vote, women weren’t respected as apart of mankind. Black women had it worse as many were assaulted by white slaveowners, and were less than deserving of anything but to bear children. This, however, did not stop the aspiring black authors to write in a time when blacks were forbidden to read or write. Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson, written in 1859, become the first book to be published by an African American woman. This book gave women the opportunity to have the courage to continue to have a voice and publish their own books. These are five books that have continued to be a highlight in the world today.

 

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

 

Image Via Kobo.com

Published in 1961, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is among the few existing slave narratives written by a woman. This autobiography is an account that follows the life of Harriet Jacobs and how she managed to escape from servitude in North Carolina, to freedom in the North. Jacobs writes about her life as a slave and the trials she endured through her escape.

 

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Image Via Amazon

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is a must-read as it deals with the life of Janie Crawford as she sets out to be her own person. Independence was a huge feat for a black woman in the 30s. This leads her through three marriages and, as the blurb states, “into a journey back to her roots.”

 

A Raisin in The Sun

Image Via Chicago Public Library

Lorraine Hansberry’s, A Raisin in the Sun, is an award-winning drama that speaks on the hopes and dreams of a working-class family in the South Side of Chicago. The title originates from Langston Hughes’ poem Harlem, with a line that reads “dry up/like a raisin in the sun.”

 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Image Via Goodreads

Sent to live with her grandmother in the South, Maya and her brother Bailey are faced to endure prejudice and abandonment from their mother. When she is eight years old, Maya is abused by her mother’s boyfriend, a man who is many years her senior. Many years later, Maya learns to love herself and to be free from the horrors of the past.

 

Song of Solomon

Image Via Amazon

Toni Morrison’s, Song of Solomon, is a coming of age story that follows the life of Milkman Dead, who attempts to fly off a rooftop. Milkman lives the rest of his life trying to fly as he hurdles through his family’s origins.

 

For more books written by Black female authors, check out The Zora Canon.


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Featured image via Free Pik 

#Bookstagrammer of the Week: @shelfbyshelf

Want to see your favorite Bookstagrammer featured next? Message @bookstrofficial here.

 

This Week’s Featured creator: @shelfbyshelf

 

Each week Bookstr is going to be highlighting your favorite Bookstagrammers. A Bookstagrammer is someone who shares all of their literary interests, ranging from book reviews and aesthetically pleasing book pictures to outfit pictures featuring their current reads. Anything that evokes bibliophile feels is on their Instagram pages. Make sure to give these Bookstagrammers the love they deserve! This week we are getting to know a Bookstagram account that celebrates diversity and LGBTQ+: Hunter, or as you would know him on Instagram, @shelfbyshelf.

 

Here is his story:

View this post on Instagram

📚Meet The Bookstagrammer📚 Hey, you guys!! It’s been a while since I introduced myself. My name’s Hunter, and here’s some fun facts about me! • I’m from South Georgia, currently living in North Florida with my husband and our dog, Willow. • I’ve always liked reading, but it wasn’t until I graduated high school that I began reading such a high volume of books. All of my friends were off at college, and because I didn’t have the opportunity to start school with everyone else, I started reading again. I’d read somewhere that Marilyn Monroe read so much because she wanted to be cultured and knowledgeable—still not sure if that’s true, but I like the idea—, and I thought I could do the same for myself. • I average about 100 books a year. • When I’m not reading, I’m pretending to do yoga—it’s hard, y’all. I also listen to the same music I’ve listened to for ten years. I also watch Beaches and My Best Friends Wedding on repeat. • I lived with my granny for most of my life. Her mom moved in with us when I was 10, and it was like Grey Gardens in the south. My granny is a mix of Little Edie and Margaret White from Carrie (Piper Laurie edition) • I used to make money doing portraits of people, then I did hair, and now I work for the state. But my dream is to be a writer of books, essays, plays, etc. I also wouldn’t mind acting into Oscar glory. My goal at 18 was to win 17 oscars (by the time I was 21), win a Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and the Nobel Prize For literature. And then a Grammy, tony, and Emmy—I wanted to do the full PEGOT. • Anyway, that’s just a little bit about me! If you have any other questions, comment below. And if we haven’t met yet, tell me some fun facts about you! And if we have met, I’m sure there’s still more to learn! Lol so share something new. And thanks to everyone for joining in the fun with me! – – – #books #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #meetthebookstagrammer #yoga #yogi #yogamat #love #hotyoga #pilates #aboutme #epicreads #mysistertheserialkiller #oyinkanbraithwaite #gayboy #lgbt #lgbtqia #gaypride #bookish #doubleday #selfie #thriller #booktalk #books📚 #📚

A post shared by Hunter | Shelf By Shelf (@shelfbyshelf) on

 

image via @shelfbyshelf

 

 

Chapter 1: The Birth of a Bookstagram Account

 

Hunter started out small on Instagram with only his love of books until he received a shout-out from a fellow Bookstagrammer.

 

I’ve been posting about books on Instagram for about seven years, but just in a general capacity. In 2018, my New Year’s resolution was to post a little review for every book I read. I just wanted to share my book thoughts with the few of my friends who read. I had no idea what Bookstagram was, and I thought I was the only one posting about books every day. Then this woman Larissa ( @bklnbooks ) followed me, and at some point she said she wanted to shout-out LGBTQ+ “Bookstagrammers.” I didn’t think I qualified as a Bookstagrammer, but I asked and she said yes. A few months after that, I changed my handle to @shelfbyshelf. It all happened pretty organically.

 

Hunter has a long list of favorite books (never enough favorites, right?), including:

His favorite book cover out of all eleven of those is Fates and Furies.

 

 

image via @shelfbyshelf

 

Hunter’s fun fact is that he is also involved in art.

I occasionally draw portraits—I was known for it for a while, and I have drawings in at least four continents, which I think is pretty nifty.

 

 

Chapter 2: To The Bookstagramming

 

Hunter’s aesthetic features books (of course) and the outdoors.

I didn’t think I had an aesthetic until someone posted a picture and said, “I’m stealing Hunter’s aesthetic!” And it was an angled stack of books. I’m not sure the best way to describe it, but I guess I’d just say, happy Florida green. Which probably isn’t accurate at all.

 

 

So many of Hunter’s pictures are amazing and showcase his personality, but there’s one that makes him feel particularly confident.

My favorite post was when I talked about how so many books that came out in 2017 were about grief of some kind. And my favorite picture is one I posted recently of me in a crop top surrounded by books, because it felt very Call Me By Your Name, and I wouldn’t have had the confidence to post it a year ago.

 

 

 

image via @shelfbyshelf

 

 

Hunter’s personal favorite Bookstagram accounts are both aesthetically pleasing and celebratory of diversity.

I love so many accounts/people on there, but I’ll name a few and why:

@armyofwords – She’s the most thoughtful and widely read reviewer, and the way she engages with the text inspires me to be a better reader.

@thestackspod – an amazing account with an amazing podcast. Also, just a super kind person

@bookedbytim – his account is gorgeous, and he’s a queer icon who is under-appreciated in the community.

@blo288 – Bernie reads a wide variety, and he also posts pictures of himself and his fiancé, and that makes me swoon.

 

 

He wants to tell his fellow Bookstagrammers:

 

Don’t feel pressured to post the right books or read everything the moment it comes out. And remember that there’s a way to be kind in your reviews, even when you hate a book. 

 

 

 

image via @shelfbyshelf

 

When should you look for Hunter’s newest bookish posts and reviews?

I normally just post once a day, and take a break if I need to. I like the consistency—it helps me feel like I’ve accomplished a little something each day—but I also don’t like to feel pressured to post content all throughout each day. One seemed like a good balance for me.

 

Chapter 3: TBR

Hunter’s current TBR books are Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig, and Three Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell. 

 

When asked to choose a publisher to supply him with a lifetime of books, Hunter chose Riverhead.

They have gorgeous covers, diverse authors, great content. I’ve loved every book I’ve read from them.

 

 

image via @shelfbyshelf

 

Chapter 4: What does bookstagram mean to you?

 

Hunter’s love for books has helped him define who he is.

I grew up in South Georgia, and as a poor queer boy from a broken family, I wasn’t liked very much. This page is a reminder to me that you can be your authentic self and find your people, and they will love you for everything you used to be so insecure about.

Aside from posting reviews, I always want to facilitate conversations. Whether it’s about why books can be healing, why it’s important to read diversely, what books teach us about language etc. I try to create posts that will generate a thoughtful and nuanced conversation. And before each post, I remind myself of this post from Kristen Bell’s therapist: “Honesty without tact is cruelty.”

 

Hunter hopes his Bookstagram will bring joy to the world.

I think we sometimes struggle to find joy in our world right now, and I try to spread joy and kindness as much as possible. 

 

 

Well, what did you think of @shelfbyshelf? You HAVE to watch his drunk book talk highlights! Do you have a favorite Bookstagrammer in mind? Contact us through any of our social media platforms and maybe you will see them here next week! 

 

Want to see your favorite Bookstagrammer featured next? Message @bookstrofficial here.

 

Featured image via @shelfbyshelf

 

Why We Need to Address White Assumption in Books

If this were a book and I opened it up by describing a “slim heroine with bright brown eyes, thick long hair, and a dimpled smile” what, or who would you picture? It’s natural for us as readers to assign a look to a character, sometimes even influenced by someone we know or a celebrity that we feel fits the description. But the fact of the matter is that many of you who read that description, without even thinking about it, automatically pictured this heroine as a white woman. And that, dear readers, is what it means to see whiteness as the default.

 

 

But why does this happen? While seeing white as the default isn’t an issue specifically monopolized by literature, the white bias in writing is more unique because of one major factor: it’s all words. Books have only text to rely on to show you the story. This gives us as readers a certain amount of responsibility when it comes to visualization. It’s not like in a television show, movie, or even comic book where the image of the character is clear, leaving less uncertainty about race. For this reason, part of what contributes to us seeing white characters as the literature default is the character description or lack thereof.

Related image

Image via writers HQ

 

Many authors take specific care to describe the skin-tone of non-white characters while not doing the same for their white counterparts. The reason that this is an issue is that it affects others those of different races while also conditioning readers to assume the whiteness of characters even if not explicitly stated as such. By pointing out the race of only characters of color, it’s an implication that characters that are not white are outside the “norm.” The implication then becomes that the “norm” is whiteness. Thus, we default to white when thinking of any character whose race is not specified.

 

 

While much of the burden is on authors to fix this problem, there’s also something important we as readers can do. We must unlearn seeing white as a default or the “norm” and that’s not an easy thing to do. One way to start to do this as readers is to read more books by authors of color. Being able to read books where there is diversity that is baked into the very nature of the characters is powerful. Simultaneously, you’re also supporting authors of color which are helping to diversify the literature we read.

 

Image result for diverse literature

Image via pinterest

 

Something else we as readers need to do is hold ourselves accountable. When we’re reading, we need to be thinking about the role assumption playing in our head-canons, fan-casts, and visualizations of characters. Questioning where in the text you get the idea that a character is white from their descriptor is something that will help you consciously think through your own biases.

 

Related image

Image via the black youth project

 

The last thing you can do goes beyond literature and it has to do with confronting the way you think of race in general. Oftentimes we’re presented with a fairly stereotypical view of non-white races. When we hear the word “blonde” we automatically think white, ignoring the fact that people of color can be born naturally blonde or that hair dye exists in the 21st century or that in fantasy books there are people with naturally purple hair so a person of color with naturally blonde hair isn’t out of that realm’s reality. Latinx people can have light skin or dark skin, same with Black people, Asian people, Native people, etc. So reading about a character that has “fair skin” or a character that blushes when they’re frazzled still does not automatically make them white. People of color are far from homogenous and all it takes is a simple google search to see that. Expanding your own world-view and taking some time to look a bit more into the way race can be presented will go a long way in keeping yourself from automatically assuming whiteness.

 

Image result for assumed whiteness

Image via Cosmopolitian

 

Unfortunately, many of the characters we read about whose races are explicitly mentioned actually are meant to be white by the authors and a lot of that comes from their own white bias. But being able to recognize our own biases, hold ourselves accountable, and change our own world views is going to make for a plethora of authors, both old and new, who have a vastly more progressive approach to writing racial diversity in literature.

 

 

Featured image via The New York Times