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These 4 Platforms Are Putting Us On To Books For Us By Us

Wellness

Confession: I am an intense book blerd.


Because of that, I love reading any and everything I can get my hands on. However, as an avid reader, I've noticed a lack of diversity in the books I come across and the characters that lead them. It's made me notice that as a whole, the publishing industry could use a little more color.

That's not to say that there aren't phenomenal writers of colors out there, because there are, but there is still more work to be done and ground to be covered. Prime example – two years ago, I interned at a literary agency in New York City. And it was there that I learned, on average, the black community only buys about two books a year. Compared to the 10 books the average white person buys, these jarring statistics systematically lead to the black community being underserved in the publishing world. What's even more interesting perhaps is the fact that says the demographic most likely to buy a book is the college educated black woman.

I can't help but think that there's a connection between not feeling like books are made with us in mind and us buying books. And that's where the issue lies.

In my quest for dope reads, I stumbled across four businesses that seek to prioritize POC representation in literature by bringing attention to books written by us and with us in mind. They are killing the game and redefining what it means to be mainstream reads. My reading list and I personally owe them a huge thank you, hopefully this article will do.

Well-Read Black Girl

Well-Read Black Girl started out as a personal blog and transformed into an empire of sorts. It is blog and brand dedicated to the phenomenal black women on our bookshelves – past, present, and the novel reads not yet born. What makes Well Read Black Girl stand out is their commitment to black women in literature. In giving a voice and platform to these readers, authors, and books, Well-Read Black Girl has created a niche audience and given them something never seen before in the book industry – women they can see themselves in consistently. Each month, members meet up to discuss plot twists and favorite characters over brunch. I'm so here for it.

Coloring Books

Ebony LaDelle is the CEO and founder of Coloring Books™, a newsletter and Instagram page featuring authors of color and books with diverse casts. It's safe to say that Coloring Books ™ is here to put a little more color into your inbox and hopefully your reading list. Ebony had this to say about creating the platform:

"I started Coloring Books out of frustration. I had been in publishing for a few years, and unlike my experience at Howard University, where I was able to market books from some of the greatest black storytellers of our time, past and present, I had a bit of a culture shock coming into a predominantly white industry that didn't know how to reach minority consumers. On the flip side, I heard countless times from people of color that had a hard time finding authentic and native storytelling for them or their little one. And that's how Coloring Books was born, to sort of be a hub where people can go to find books of color, and publishers could go to reach consumers."

Noir Reads

Noir Reads is a subscription box service featuring black authors that includes a reading guide and access to an online book forum. What I love so much about Noir Reads is that it allows black readers to connect with each other. While reading books by black authors is a treat, it is even better when you can talk about it with your fellow brothas and sistas. Noir Reads allows for conversation surrounding black literature to be normalized, which is the first step to black literature being highly regarded and canonized.

We Need Diverse Books

"Imagine a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book."

We Need Diverse Books is committed not only to finding more people of color in the pages of books, but also to finding more people of color employed in the publishing industry - particularly in the realm of children's lit. They serve as a blog and resource for many offering book recs, awards, scholarships, and events saluting diverse authors. What makes them stand out from the rest is that they embody intersectional experiences, and vouch for every minority's representation. Until all people are equal, none of us are. Seeing that in the books we read is more important than ever, and We Need Diverse Books knows that.

Is there anything at the top of your reading list this year? Let us know in the comments below.

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Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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