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.
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.
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.
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.
Do you have any apprehensions around reading books by black authors? What are your thoughts?
Check out danidanydanie, who created the #ReadSoulLit photo montage here.
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.