Are You Apprehensive About Reading Books by Black Authors? A Chat with #ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Creator, Didi Borie

It’s February and that means Black History Month in the United States, which also means #ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge 2018 is underway! #ReadSoulLit is the brainchild of Didi Borie, who shares her impressions of the books she reads on her blog and book tube channel, both aptly named Brown Girl Reading. Didi and I first got acquainted as friends on goodreads.com, and she was my cheerleader when I was thinking about starting this blog.

Originally from Louisiana, Didi is an English Language Consultant in France who is fluent in French, and may even be able to remember a touch of the Egyptian Arabic that she learned many years ago! A terrific lover of contemporary novels, she specializes in promoting books by writers of color. This year I wanted to help her celebrate the good energy generated around her initiative by asking a few questions about the history and vision for #ReadSoulLit.

Hi Didi!
Congratulations on the 4th Year of the #ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge that you created.  Do you remember what inspired you to develop the challenge?

Didi:  Well, I’d been doing Booktube over on YouTube for a few years and realized many people had apprehensions about reading books by African-American writers, unless they were reading a Toni Morrison novel or Giovanni’s Room. People were also asking me specifically for recommendations for writers of color. So, I started with a photo challenge on Instagram and then asked other African-American Booktubers to do videos spotlighting  Black American writers and their works. I was hoping this would show apprehensive readers that the variety is great and that we have many wonderful writers telling great stories. I’m delighted to be hosting the #ReadSoulLit photo challenge on Instagram for the fourth year. I hope this year will bring even more participants to the challenge to enrich the photos that are already there.

Leslie:  That’s an interesting observation: that people are apprehensive about reading books by African American writers.  Do you think it’s just white people or all people who have that apprehension?  I’ve observed an attitude toward African American writing in which people think that the content is either going be  “urban” without being “literary,” or it’s going to be about slavery and they don’t want to deal with everything that’s uncomfortable about that.

Didi: Actually, yes, I feel the apprehension from both races for different reasons.  I feel like black Americans don’t want to read anything about slavery.  They feel it’s been played out and they are tired of seeing African-Americans portrayed only in that storyline.  For whites, the apprehension seems to come from a fear of not being able to understand our stories.  No one has actually openly expressed it that way but it’s the feeling I get.  I also have a feeling there’s the impression that our stories aren’t as interesting as others. I’m not sure why that is – with the variety of writers we have.

my post for #ReadSoulLit Day 4 (2018): Sign of the Times-Nonfiction (photo by Leslie Reese)

Leslie:  The #ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge is really unique – I don’t think there is any other like it.  It’s such a fun and creative way to bring attention to black writers and their works.  What has surprised you the most about the energy #ReadSoulLit has generated?  And by the way, how did you come up with the name? I love it!  Were there other names that didn’t make the cut?

Didi: Well, #ReadSoulLit really took off on Instagram. I think people on Instagram are curious about getting and giving recommendations and there are a lot of Bookstagrammers sparking book interest.  The people that participate every year are excited about it and they are very passionate about writers of color. I think they realize that African-American writers and other writers of color are never going to get press if we don’t talk about them and push them.   I can’t explain why #ReadSoulLit hasn’t taken off so much on Booktube but I guess it just needs time for things to trickle through.

The name came up because I heard Dominique from The Storyscape use “Soulful lit.”  Then I started thinking it would be good to have a hashtag where African-American writers’ works could be grouped, and then I extended it to writers of color and using the hashtag year round.  People have started to automatically tag the books they read by authors of color regularly and that has made for an excellent amount of reading recommendations for anyone who is lacking. Currently there are over 5,300 posts tagged #ReadSoulLit over on Instagram.

My response to the “selfie with a book” #ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge back in 2017

Leslie:  Have there been any #ReadSoulLit posts that have particularly surprised and/or delighted you?
Didi:  There aren’t any posts that have surprised me in particular but what I do love is seeing how that hashtag has grown over the last 3 years. Currently, #ReadSoulLit is at 5,592+ posts.  I hope this 4th year will double that number of posts.

Leslie:  What ’s been the response of black authors to #ReadSoulLit?
Didi:  I’ve noticed some independent and seasoned writers posting about the photo challenge this year and that’s very encouraging.

Leslie:  What’s your vision for #ReadSoulLit moving forward?
Didi:  Ideally I’d love it if publishers expressed a desire to sponsor #ReadSoulLit.  I think this would allow them to see that there are more people out here than they think who are prepared to support black authors.  I hope that publishers will try to collaborate more often with black literary influencers like myself to promote all books in general. Publishers need to see that we are here, enjoy reading, and we’re talking about what we like and what we don’t like in books.
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Do you have any apprehensions around reading books by black authors? What are your thoughts?

Connect with Didi:
On instagram: here.
On YouTube: here.
On her blog: here.

Check out danidanydanie, who created the #ReadSoulLit photo montage here.
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Carter G. Woodson introduced Negro History Week in 1926 because he wanted to counter the popular assumption that black people had no history.  He wasn’t alive to see his creation become Black History Month in 1976. Carter G. Woodson first published his classic, The Mis-Education of the Negro on his own press in 1933.

Read my post “A Black History Month Observance: A Collaboration Between Myself & a Stranger.”

20 Comments

  1. I’m late to the party – great interview, Leslie! No apprehension here; black lit is my everything. #ReadSoulLit this year has been fun, as usual. I hope publishers can pick up Didi’s annual campaign, because the photo challenge is important and soo many Bookstagrammers from all over participate 🙂

  2. Leslie, this is a great interview. I think Didi’s initiative is important, especially given today’s climate and resurgence of supporting women and African Americans in general. I’ll be sure to check out her work.

    1. Kathy, I’m glad you enjoyed my little “chat” with Didi 😊. I agree with you that #ReadSoulLit is a fine resource for people wanting to broaden their reading tastes in response to the times.

  3. Hello! As Leslie will remember but I should tell others, I’m white. I do not fear reading any particular writer. What I do fear is writing that I have trouble understanding, whether it’s an African-American dialect, a British dialect, or imitations of either. (There are parts of Mark Twain I just can’t manage, for instance.) Foreign words in languages I don’t know are trouble, too — so even in Scottish writers’ use of Scots words, where words are familiar due to my heritage, I appreciate it when there’s a “standard English” definition close by in the dialogue, so that I can check what I know against the author’s work (and so that I can lend out the book without fear). Annotated editions (to get around historical and/or foreign definitions) and videos are great ways to get into stories I had feared trying. Thank you for expanding my knowledge of authors and their work and encouraging me to try, Leslie. Keep up the good work!

    1. Hello, Margaret❣️How’s my FIB doing? I’m overdue for seeing what you’ve been up to over at Margaret Serious. I’m glad to hear from you. You’ve brought up something interesting with regard to reading expressions from languages and dialects that I don’t know and haven’t heard spoken. Some multilingual authors flavor their prose with words that are foreign to me, and often I suspect I may be mis-pronouncing in my head! Everything isn’t directly translatable to English, and I think my understanding of some scenarios would be heightened if usage of certain terms were familiar to me. I’m glad that you’ve mentioned videos, and I might add audiobooks to that – something I’ve only employed in classrooms. Maybe this year I’ll give some a try while I’m knitting!

  4. So awesome! I do like the content Didi posts on her blog and YouTube channel.
    I think it’s true that folks of both races are apprehensive about reading books by Black authors. Some of my friends who are African American or from the Caribbean avoid books by Black authors assuming, as Didi said, that it’s about slavery so they’ll get angry reading it. That’s how I felt too couple years ago. But now I’m reading more Black authors, especially as I discover more work by Black authors in my favorite genre – fantasy.

    1. Hi ZeZee – To your point: it is always a welcome revelation for me whenever I learn about writers of color WRITING IN ALL GENRES!

      A number of years ago I read a piece in which speculative fiction author N.K. Jemisin talked about not wanting her books to be segregated in bookstores and libraries [in African American sections] because she wanted readers to be able to discover her books without having pre-conceived ideas in their heads about what they were going to encounter. Thoughts?

      1. Oh I have a lot of thoughts about that, and I agree with her (just read the article). My problem with the section doesn’t run so deep. Actually, I didn’t know much about black publishing until I read her post. My experience is that when I visit the AA section in a bookstore, I feel as if it’s singled out, thrown to the side, and includes a mishmash of books (as Jemisin mentioned) and most of the books aren’t ones I want to read. So, if her books were shelved there in the store where I bought The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I wouldn’t have gotten it. My interest is fantasy, so that’s where I go to get my books.
        Also, to me the AA section gives the impression that black authors can only write about one thing, as we can’t write in different genres, about different issues, and about different people, cultures, and races. And when I see social studies books shelved there (when there’s a social studies section in the store), it gives me the impression that our issues aren’t the same as everyone else’s. It’s as if we’re so “Othered” that we’re unrelatable.

        1. ZeZee, I’m glad you got a chance to read Jemisin’s piece. Thank you for returning to share additional thoughts.
          I know what you mean about the African-American section….I’m actually old enough to remember when this section didn’t exist. When first introduced, it helped people see that black people wrote books, but, over the decades I’ve noticed it’s become an unnecessary segregation. I’ve even seen some stores will have an African-American section, but certain black writers – like Toni Morrison – won’t be shelved there, but in the general literature section, so there’s still some distinction being made and I don’t think it is complementary.

          Also, so much non-fiction “black interest” isn’t just about “blackness” per se, but may also be about world history, African history, American history, constitutional law, education, etc., but sometimes, when it’s shelved in a segregated section, people forget that issues, histories, and ideas are intertwined.

  5. It had never occurred to me to shun any writer for racial reasons. Or for national reasons for that matter. Lately I have been enjoying Nigerian writers, for instance. I am an omnivorous reader and would die of boredom just reading about people just like me.

    1. Hey Monica! Thank you for reading and commenting. I enjoyed reading your #ReadSoulLit post about Ernest Gaines, today. I haven’t read him in a while, but I bought A Gathering of Old Men and A Lesson Before Dying last year with intentions of getting into re-reading his work.

      ….Yes, I would like to learn more about popular perceptions around the work of black writers, from many points of view. We’ll have to deepen the inquiry😊.

    1. OMG, Daniel – No assumptions allowed! (Obviously I’d be responding differently had I read The Sellout). I’ve read some great things about his book, and I must confess that reading satirical fiction has not been my strong suit. Thank you for bringing Paul Beatty’s name into the conversation so I can think about my own “apprehensions” regarding reading different styles and genres of writing from writers of color who have something unique to offer.

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