The Founders Of The Black Girls’ Book Club On Staging Their First Literary Festival
As a concept, the book club has been well and truly revitalised. Its parochial, fuddy-duddy connotations, while not wholly dismissed, have been added to significantly. In the 1990s, Oprah Winfrey did much to champion authors and diversify the American woman’s bookshelf with her book club. More recently, actor, producer and Instagram favourite Reese Witherspoon has impacted many a writer's career – be that by spearheading a big budget screen adaptation (think: Wild, Big Little Lies), or simply boosting sales by including their tome in her book club picks.
In 2014, the Pew Research Centre released data that revealed the person most likely to read a book was a black woman with a degree. For diasporic proof of this we need look no further than London’s very own Black Girl’s Book Club, founded in 2016 by friends Melissa Cummings-Quarry and Natalie Carter, who came up with the idea over dinner. “We were discussing ways we could strengthen our friendship and what we could do together,” Cummings-Quarry explains. “We both had the thought that we should start a book club. We thought it was just going be our mums, aunties and a few mates. But our first event, a ‘Black Girls are Magic Brunch’ was such a success, it completely sold out. Since then it’s ju
The writers they invite to dine over discourse with their guests are of the highest calibre. Women’s Prize for Fiction Winner Tayari Jones, queer feminist icon Roxane Gaye, Golden Globe and Academy Award Nominee Gabourey Sidibe, and black British national treasures, like former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman OBE, or broadcaster (and patron saint of lip gloss) June Sarpong MBE.
“A lot of the authors we invite are quite surprised because they expect to just come and have a standard book event,” says Cummings-Quarry. “But instead we say to them, ‘Come! Eat With us. Drink with us. Sit with us.’” This convivial atmosphere is evident in the duo's gleeful Instagram posts, and the irreverent tone of their GIF-heavy Twitter feed. The cuisine served is also as global as their outlook, like ackee and saltfish washed down with prosecco and pomegranate cocktails. Self-confessed fashion girls, their Ankara fabric headwraps, jewel-toned suits, daring slit dresses and metallic heels are an affirmation – as if it were needed – that intellectual curiosity and an interest in fashion are not mutually exclusive.
The friends, ever keen to make their work accessible, had this in mind as they embarked upon their latest venture, the first Black Girls Book Club Literary Festival. “We thought, let’s do a festival that turns the idea of the traditional literary festival on its head,” Cummings-Quarry says. “It’s going to be a whole month, it's not just going to be a day. It’s going be affordable. It’s going to be after work, so that working women can attend. Everything we do is [keeping] all black women in mind. We just want to embrace one another.”
Read more: Kuchenga: Visibility May Not Save Our Lives, But Mothers Can Save Our Souls
Taking place at The Curtain in Shoreditch, the festival programme kicks off with the acclaimed beauty editor Funmi Fetto’s Palette, a hotly anticipated beauty bible for women of colour which has already sold out completely. The rest of the line-up features some of the year's biggest publishing success stories. There's a night with Candice Carty-Williams, whose bestselling debut Queenie has had rave reviews from everyone from Jojo Moyes to Stormzy. There's also an evening with the black Irish academic and broadcaster Emma Dabiri, whose sociological masterpiece Don’t Touch My Hair is set to inspire riveting conversation about the past, present and future of discourse around black hair.
For a new generation of black women, Natalie and Melissa are social and cultural curators. They're also helping us to heed Megan Thee Stallion's latest rallying cry, by easing our seasonal transition from the Hot Girl Summer to the Hot Nerd Fall.
October is Black History Month in the UK. Here are three more things to note...
Art in the Age of Black Girl Magic
Bolanle Tajudeen is an art lecturer and the founder of Black Blossoms, an organisation supporting and highlighting black women artists. This new four week course offers a vital introduction for anyone seeking an understanding of current and historical artistic practices by black women, by critically engaging with a range of relevant resources, including the displays at Tate Britain.
This is an evolving live programme and display by Narration Group that explores ideas of collective practice. Through kitchen table discussions, readings and collaborative curatorial projects, the group inhabits and reimagines institutional spaces and social structures. It also provides a space for alternative collective learning through the lenses of queer theory, black feminist thought and diasporic perspectives.
Black Girl Fest
The UK's first festival celebrating black women and girls is back and better than ever. Now in its third year, Black Girl Festival 2019 takes its theme from the laudedTaking Up Space, written by Cambridge graduates Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi. Alongside carefully curated talks, workshops and masterclasses, it will host a marketplace, exhibitions, live performances, screenings and more.