This Rapper’s Book Club Is Uplifting Writers of Color
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because so many great reads are elevated here — as picked by musicians, celebrities and fans.
By Joshua Eferighe
What happens when a socially conscious rapper who is fed up with the systemic and patriarchal oppression of modern society decides to start a book club on Twitter? It gets very popular very fast. And then it also gets very real.
Noname’s Book Club isn’t just an online gathering of book lovers. This club, with the Twitter tagline “Reading material for the homies,” is devoted specifically to uplifting the voices of the marginalized, including writers of color and those in the LQBTQ community.
Noname (born Fatima Warner), a 28-year-old poet turned rapper from Bronzeville, Chicago, indirectly started the club with an impromptu tweet in July 2019: “Tryna see something. Retweet this if you would be a member of Noname’s Book Club.” After 5,000 retweets, the book club was born. It has since gained a following of 88,000 on Twitter and 56,000 on Instagram. There’s an IRL community element too, with in-person meetups to discuss the monthly picks in a safe, supportive environment.
Noname elevates radical voices and literary disruptors.
Each month the club selects two books written by authors of color. Followers can either discuss online or in person at one of the six chapters. Sometimes the authors of selected books make appearances. In January, for example, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, author of Sabrina & Corina, showed up at the Washington, D.C., chapter.
When it comes to the recommended reads, you won’t find titles by mainstream authors or ones from major publishing houses. Noname tends to elevate radical voices and literary disruptors. Some selections are made by her celeb friends. Fariha Róisín’s poetry collection How to Cure a Ghost and Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler, for example, were selected by singer-songwriter Kehlani, while Los Angeles rapper Earl Sweatshirt recently chose Eduardo Galeano’s Faces & Masks: Memory of Fire, Volume 2.
“I think it’s beautiful what she’s doing by bringing a book club to communities of color,” says Róisín. She was ecstatic when she found out her book made the list in November. “It meant so much to me,” she says.
Some other recommendations have included Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by the late Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire, and the essay collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, by American comedian Samantha Irby, who runs the popular blog Bitches Gotta Eat. The club kicked off 2020 with Die Nigger Die!, an autobiography by the American political activist H. Rap Brown, now known as Jamil Al-Amin, about young Black civil rights activists and how they shaped his opinions of white America.
But the club is about more than elevating books by marginalized writers. It’s also about community support for literacy. Noname –– whose mother, Desiree Sanders, was the first Black woman in Chicago to own a bookstore –– also tweets support for borrowing books from libraries and buying them from local bookstores. She has created a list of Black-owned bookstores that carry the club picks, because, she says, it’s “another incredible way to remind the community that there’s something deeply sustainable in supporting one another.” Each month, copies of the picks are sent to prisons in Chicago.
“Book clubs are really important to community building which is something that CPL [Chicago Public Libraries] is all about,” says Olivia Kuncio, public relations representative for Chicago Public Library. “This kind of discussion really helps people participate and meet their neighbors.”
And a world with more reading, well, that can never be a bad thing.
- Joshua Eferighe