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These Book Clubs For Black Women Have Us Updating Our Reading Lists

"Books are a uniquely portable magic."

Wellness

Reading is by far one of the easiest ways to press pause and escape. Some books are page-turners, keeping you on the edge of your seat with each and every thrill. Other books are filled to the brim with intrigue. Other books are filled with so much heat between their pages, it's a wonder how erotica can almost feel as tantalizing as the real thing. Above all, we can read books for knowledge. It was author Stephen King who said, "Books are a uniquely portable magic." We learn, we love, we fantasize, we feel, and we heal from these portals of hundreds of pages offering food for thought. How could books not be magic?


These days, more and more of us are finding solace through reading and community by way of online book clubs. In the midst of a pandemic shaking our lives as we know it, many Black women found a sense of peace and normalcy in the virtual world of book clubs, a reality that's still going strong. Here are at xoNecole, we are always looking for ways to help like-minded women find community with other Black women in safe spaces. In honor of that, we've compiled a list of book clubs founded by Black women catering to Black women.

So if you're a lit lover, prepare to bookmark this article!

Noname Book Club

It's not just a "Diddy Bop" for rapper Noname, sis is the founder of a popular book club aptly titled, Noname Book Club. What began as a quick photo update on social media of a book she was reading has become an online community that amasses 140K Instagram followers and counting. With the tagline "reading material for the homies," the focus of the club is on mostly literature penned by writers and authors of color. Noname shared with The New York Times, "We read books, but under the umbrella that I am continuously trying to expand different initiatives through book club."

Required Reading:The Autobiography of Malcolm X As told to Alex Haley and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Well-Read Black Girl Book Club

Created in 2015 as a safe space, the Well-Read Black Girl Book Club is yet another book club in the digital space amplifying the narratives of Black women and non-binary authors. Once just a book club, the movement has since evolved to a literary festival in addition to being a place to inspire healthy discourse amongst Black women. Of the thriving community, founder Glory Edim has shared, "I'm honored to be of service and shine a light on the work of so many amazing authors. I'm grateful for our beautiful, bright community. Together, as a collective mind with a shared purpose, we can reimagine the literary canon."

Required Reading:Seven Days in June by Tia Williams and The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers

For Colored Girls Book Club

The Indianapolis-based book club For Colored Girls Book Club found their community online. The founder Gizelle Fletcher had a desire to read and discuss books written by women of color as well as non-binary writers. Through her work with the club, Gizelle has been able to fulfill her purpose of amplifying Black and brown voices and does so on a monthly basis every fourth Tuesday.

Required Reading: Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur and The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Smart Brown Girl

YouTuber Joulzey created the Smart Brown Girl Book Club as an extension from her Smart Brown Girl brand. Her motto? Making reading accessible to all since knowledge is power. The SBG Book Club offers live discussions and syllabi based on the track you're interested in (General Track vs Exploration Track). With a mission to help Black girls in forgotten spaces gain access to a world bigger than us all, the sky's the limit with the knowledge Joulzey seeks to facilitate in her community of readers.

Required Reading: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris and THICK by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Mocha Girls Read

Mocha Girls Read is an LA-based book club that meets monthly to discuss selected reads amongst a community of like-minded readers. Unlike a lot of the other book clubs mentioned in this article, Mocha Girls Read has a more expansive selection for their reading list. They read fiction, non-fiction, chick lit, self-help books, historical romance, best-sellers, and more and don't limit their selections to gender or race.

Required Reading:Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong and The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

For more inspiration, self-care, and healing tips, check out xoNecole's Wellness section here.

Featured image by Getty Images

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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