Black Girls Gather book club brings attention to underappreciated part of literature

A Montreal book club is doing its part to bring attention to Black and African authors who have been historically underappreciated.

On Sunday, writer Sarah Raughley was among the speakers on a panel addressing an online meeting of the Black Girls Gather book club. Raughley, the author of six books, remembers trying to publish her first one, when she was told it wasn't Black enough.

“It was about a Nigerian girl like me, going on an adventure,” she said. “I was told it wasn't African enough. I was told this by white editors. I was told she wasn't Black enough. I was trying to decode that, people telling me she sounds like a white girl. I was like 'She sounds like me.'”

A 2015 study by independent publisher Lee & Lowe Books found 80 per cent of people working in publishing self-identify as white. A New York Times poll of all books published in 2018 found only 11 per cent were written by People of Colour.

“Our books are showing the humanity of us, of Black women,” said Raughley.

The panel, which was organized by the West Island Black Community Association, was empowering to book club members like 19-year-old Jessica Williams Daley.

“I know more about myself,” she said. “I feel stronger, I feel like I'm not alone.”

Daley said other book clubs she's participated in centred around white authors, but the Black Girls Gather book club has changed the way she feels about herself.

“Getting to really understand these books, it showed me maybe I need to be that new model that a young Black woman can look up to and say 'If she's doing it, I can do it as well,” she said.

The book club was created in response to a lack of African literature in schools.

“The books that we read in school centred white protagonist characters,” said co-coordinator Fabiola Ngamaleuteumeni.

But panels such as the one Raughley sat on shows the diversity and texture of Black, African and Caribbean cultures, among others.

“Bringing African literature to the forefront shows that the Black diaspora is so diverse,” said Ngamaleuteumeni. “It's not only in the United States or in Canada, there are Black people all over the world and the works of literature are incredibly diverse as well.” 

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