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Books and Brunch: A Celebration of Literacy, History and Sisterhood

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By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

Imagine a safe space to celebrate black womanhood and culture while learning about black history through books by black authors. That is the goal of the Birmingham-based Books and Brunch book club.

Started two years ago by friends turned sorority sisters, Samaiyah Steward and Jasmine Clark, the book club is geared towards celebrating black history and culture while learning more about themselves and other women in the group through books.

The idea came to Steward, 27, after she graduated from Jacksonville State University in 2014.

“I noticed a difference in myself and I just missed learning and I was like ‘I need to read more’ and so I set a goal for myself which was to read one book a month and I was working two jobs (in dental complex and department store) at the time, so I was falling off with the reading,” she said.

Steward said she took her plan to Clark whom she had met during their undergraduate years of college.

“We met up at a Starbucks in December of 2016 and we were just talking and she [said] ‘I really want to start a book club’ and . . . she asked me would I be willing to go ahead and start it with her and I [said] ‘it’s a great idea because I hadn’t read books probably since high school,” said Clark, 27.

The pair invited some of their friends to join their club and had their first official meeting in March of 2017 at Grille 29 in Brookwood Village where they each read and discussedWe Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

The club now has 80 members across Alabama, Georgia and even New Jersey. They stay connected through the messaging app, GroupMe.

“We have some [members] locally, we have a good amount in Atlanta and a few people up north, but mostly everyone is in the Birmingham area but we have really grown a lot,” said Clark. “Our Instagram page has . . . close to 1,500 followers.”

Prominent Authors

The group reads one book a month by black authors like Zora Neale Hurston; Camille Acker, Dr. Venus Opal Reese and at the end of the month, gets together at Birmingham-area brunch spots that have included First Watch in Vestavia Hills, Mason Dixon in Homewood and Rojo in Birmingham. The club typically meets the last Saturday of each month.

Books have included “The Miseducation of the Negro” (Carter G. Woodson), “Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty” (Dorothy Roberts) and “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” (Michelle Alexander).

“We try to focus on black women authors but black male authors, we’ll read their books as well and every now and again we’ll read a book that’s by a non-black author but the goal is to really read books by a black author . . .to get a better understanding of who we are as a people because a lot of us don’t know our history before slavery,” said Steward.

A lot of readings are non-fiction, but the group also delves into some fiction works as well.

“We try to do a little bit of everything so we read a lot of autobiographies, we do some fiction and some non-fiction but we try to mix it up because a lot of the books we do read are heavier reads,” said Steward.

“Some of the books are tough reads so we try to switch it up because when you’re doing hard readings it can become draining if you’re reading about racism and colorism . . . we try to give ourselves a break and read something more light and airy or a little bit more fun.”

Other books have included “Let’s Talk About Love” by Claire Kann, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, “The Words I Didn’t Say” by Tamika Newhouse, “Riddles” by Rhonda Crowder, and some autobiographies such as “We’re Going to Need More Wine” by Gabrielle Union, “Assata: An Autobiography” by Assata Shakur and “The Last Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish.

This month the group is reading “Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me” by Charlamagne Tha God, a radio and TV personality.

“This book talks about mental health which we think is really important for the black community to have . . . the conversation about depression, anxiety,” said Clark.

The group will meet this Saturday, April 26 at a restaurant downtown or one of the local parks for a picnic.

Telling Our Stories

Book clubs are important for literacy and history, said the two book club founders.

“We have to know our history and in high school I didn’t read to0 many African American books so I was kind of blindsided to my own history and I never really was engaged to read besides going to school,” said Clark. [We really didn’t learn] about black history so [the book club gives] me the opportunity to learn more about racism and sexism and feminism and all the isms that I had no clue about,” said Clark.

Steward added, “it’s important to keep fresh on your reading skills and comprehension skills but it’s also important because the focus of our book club and the books that we do read, tell stories that we don’t get to hear or share often . . . [there are] a lot of things we go through on a day-to-day basis and this is a chance to talk about all those things and really let our hair down.”

The group can be found on Instagram at booksxbrunch.