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Redefining Representation With ‘Well-Read Black Girl’

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Glory Edim is the founder of Well-Read Black Girl, a book club turned literary festival turned online community turned collection of essays. (Photos by Jai Lennard/Book cover image courtesy of Ballantine Books)

Glory Edim is the founder of Well-Read Black Girl, a book club turned literary festival turned online community turned collection of essays. (Photos by Jai Lennard/Book cover image courtesy of Ballantine Books)

A little while after Glory Edim created an Instagram account under the name Well-Read Black Girl, she said she started getting a lot of messages from young women. They were thanking her for creating a space that offered reflections of themselves. 

“It’s not only just an Instagram account, but people don’t see themselves reflected in their libraries, in their bookstores, in everyday conversation,” Edim said on Nerdette podcast.

“The common theme is: People don’t feel fully heard. And I’m doing my best to change that.” 

Well-Read Black Girl has since become a wide number of things, including a collection of essays, a Brooklyn-based book club, and an online community “that celebrates the uniqueness of Black literature and sisterhood.” 

Edim spoke with Nerdette host Greta Johnsen (and special guest host Arionne Nettles!) about how she got to where she is and what she’s still trying to accomplish. Below are highlights.

(And what does our guest host Arionne do at WBEZ? Well, she’s an amazing digital producer whose duties include, for one, editing this very article. She may try to delete this parenthetical paragraph from the story, but the world must know of her greatness! Sorry/not sorry, Arionne!)

What the title ‘Well-Read Black Girl’ means

Glory Edim: For me, it definitely is a call to action. There was a time where black men and women could not read. It was illegal. You couldn’t do those things. I do think so much about black ancestry, our history, our heritage, the lineage, and I think of books as an inheritance we have. We are able to have the stories — whether it’s oral traditions or the actual physical books themselves — we have the stories of our ancestors. And I feel such a responsibility to pass those stories on and to really elevate the narratives, whether it’s a slave narrative or not. Whatever it is that has to do with black people, that feels so essential to the mission of Well-Read Black Girl.

When she first saw herself reflected in literature

Edim: I know I had a moment where I read Maya Angelou and that really changed my trajectory of the things I read and how I read them. And really becoming more critical in terms of my analysis and how I was discovering black authors. 

Prior to that, I read Wuthering Heights, Little Women, of course Judy Bloom. I read vastly, but I wasn’t very focused on black women writers. ... It wasn’t part of my personal library. And I just decided to be very intentional about it and read black women with more vigor and more analysis.

Why she rereads some books, like Sula and Jazz

Edim: There’s something about reading a book in different phases in your life and seeing just how you’ve grown as a person, and how your perspective has changed, and how you have a new appreciation for the text. That’s powerful. Because sometimes it serves almost as a litmus test of like: I’m able. I’m growing. 

You read things at different moments of your life, and I feel like it’s very much like a song that you return to or a memory that replays in your mind. But it lives on paper, so you can open up the book, highlight it, and sit with it in a different way.

View this post on Instagram “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. It may even be necessary to encounter the defeat, so that we can know who we are. So that we can say, ‘Oh, that happened, and I rose. I did get knocked down flat in front of the whole world, and I rose. I didn’t run away; I rose right where I’d been knocked down.’ You say, ‘I have so much courage in me that I have the effrontery, the incredible gall to stand up.’ That’s it. “ #wellreadblackgirl #MayaAngelou #undefeated #mondaymotivation A post shared by Well-Read Black Girl (@wellreadblackgirl) on Oct 1, 2018 at 12:38am PDT

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was produced and adapted for the web by Justin Bull.

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