Today I’m excited to share with you the first of my Black Men Reading Series: Part One of an exchange I had with Reginald Bailey during the month of May. Reggie is an active Bookstagrammer, and I was curious about him as a reader who is black and male. That’s not a demographic that we know very much about, so I thought I’d commence to doing some research of my own. I hope you enjoy getting acquainted with Reggie as much as I have – I learned a lot from him. Read on. We’re looking forward to your comments and questions!
Leslie[LR]: – Hi Reggie! Thank you for agreeing to be featured here on Folklore & Literacy. I’ve been following you on instagram, and what I like about your posts is that I can sense your engagement with the books you read. Yet, I read one post where you acknowledged that you weren’t always into books. I found that surprising. Can you share how you got into reading so much that you also moved into bookstagramming?
Reggie[RB]: Thank for you having me on Folklore & Literacy, Leslie! I am genuinely humbled and grateful for the opportunity!
I got into reading around March of 2015. Initially my goal was to read self-help books so I could find all the keys I needed for success in life. As a student working towards my Master’s, and being thoroughly impressed by one of my professors who could talk at length on just about any topic, I figured I may as well open a book or two so my conversations with people would reflect the degree I was working towards. After my initial dive into self-help books, I moved on to popular psychology, technology & science books, but once I was introduced to James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, I knew I’d found the books I had been longing to read. Books that spoke to the Black American experience and told the United States about itself.
Coates’ and Baldwin’s nonfiction, Between The World And Me, and The Fire Next Time, respectively, opened the gate for me into African-American studies, African-American History and most importantly for me, African-American Literature, which naturally led to me exploring Caribbean, African and other literature of the African Diaspora. I haven’t looked back since walking through that gate and this is the same gate that I used to walk into the loving and beautiful community known as bookstagram.
[LR]: You know, I was in a bookstore, recently, and I overheard two people talking. One of them was looking for something in particular and the other one was saying “I should read more. But, it’s like, after all the books I had to read to get my bachelors degree, that just turned me off from reading!” It got me to thinking about how a lot of people are educated and literate, but once they get their degrees, they stop reading books!
James Baldwin’s writing is so eloquent. His nonfiction work was my first experience reading a writer talk about the spiritual and moral poverty and sickness that racism and bigotry exact on the American soul. He was intellectual but I feel like he really dug into his heart to write, as well. When I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World And Me, I had also intended to re-read Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name, but I haven’t got around to it, yet.
Are you getting your masters in African Diaspora Studies? You know self-help books sometimes get a bad rap, but I’ve read my share! Some of them are written kind of slick, making promises like high-end hustlers, but others feel like little mentorships that can help us evolve. Are you strictly off reading non-black writers?
[RB]: I hope you enjoy Nobody Knows My Name when you get around to that! I have yet to read it myself, but knowing Baldwin, he will surely deliver.
I actually received an MBA in Organizational Leadership for my graduate degree. I completed it in August of 2016. I think because the focus of my graduate studies was business related that it naturally led me down the path of self-help. So much of self-help speaks to business, leadership, personal development and personal finance so it natural fit into the business mindset I was deep into at the time. Self-help does get a bad rap sometimes, even from me – if I am honest – but, even I know there are some potentially life-changing, life-altering pieces of information for anyone who ventures into a self-help book. I’d probably still be reading mainly self-help and other popular nonfiction books written mainly by White men had it not been for reading Baldwin and Coates.
Ever since January of 2016 I have been reading books exclusively by Black authors, but I will be reading Blood in the Water by Heather Ann Thompson later in the year so my reading “blackout” will be coming to an end. However, I’m still going to prioritize work by Black authors, as well as other authors of color in an effort to combat the vast amounts of whiteness in the publishing industry.
79% percent of the entire publishing industry, including 82% of the editors, are white. That has made things extremely difficult for Blacks and other authors of color to get their respective works published. So, even when I am done with my “blackout” I will explicitly use the platform I have to read and review mostly African Diasporic, Asian Diasporic, Latinx & Indigenous literature; with my main focus remaining on African American Literature, History & Studies.
I want to do all I can to become the change I seek and explicitly prioritizing books by POC authors is a small step in that direction.
[LR]: You know, what you said about the “vast amounts of whiteness” in the publishing industry reminds me of a piece I read by Denene Millner in the New York Times a few months back. It’s called “Black Kids Don’t Want to Read About Harriet Tubman All the Time” in which she talks about how books that feature children of color are usually about “exceptional” figures, degradation, and resilience – which is fine – but children of color ought to also see themselves in regular, “every day” stories in which they learn to tie their shoes and wonder why they have to brush their teeth and things like that.
But what really blew my mind were some statistics she shared from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center: of the 3,500 children’s books published in the United States in 2017, 319 featured black characters; and only 116 of them were written or illustrated by black people.
One of the things I think escapes white readers is that they can go to school and always study the words and contributions and stories and deeds of other white people; without perceiving how starved the rest of us are to see our ancestors and the breadth of our experiences, contributions, and imaginative powers as part of that fabric.
I’m glad you mentioned Asian Diaspora, Latinx, and Indigenous literature, because I would like to include more of these stories in my literary diet, as well.
[RB]: I read Denene Millner’s article as well, and I really appreciate her for “being the change she wants to see;” partnering with Agate Bolden to create her own imprint – Denene Millner Books, as well as authoring the book Early Sunday Morning, that children from all backgrounds can relate to.
Like Millner expressed in the article, all children in the U.S. should read and study prominent individuals like MLK Jr., Muhammad Ali, Harriet Tubman and more. But, children and adults of all backgrounds should also have the option to read Black characters whose cars break down, Black characters who are frustrated while stuck in traffic, Black characters who visit the dentist, and the many mundane things that WE ALL do.
I feel like the “mundane” can really go a long way in children’s literature. Good evidence of this is the success of Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, which is the recipient of the Newbery Medal, Caldecott Medal, and Coretta Scott King Book Award, amongst other awards, and to top that off, it was published under the Denene Millner Books. Sounds like we could use her in the realm of adult publishing too!
[LR]: So, Reggie, are most of your bookish friends people you’ve met through social media, or do you have bookish friends who you get to hang out with on the regular?
[RB]: Most of my bookish friends are people who I have met on Social Media. Social Media is where I began to meet other people who read Fiction. If and when I do come across readers in my everyday life, they tend to be readers of self-help and personal finance.
The Washington Post even reported on the decline of literary reading in an article from 2016, in which it was noted that according to the National Endowment for the Arts, in 1982 about 57% of American adults read a work of literature (novels, short stories, poetry, or plays)in the prior year. By 2015, that number decreased to 43%.
Based off of my daily experiences that 43% feels accurate, if not, a little high. I honestly thought it would have been worse.
In Part Two, me and Reggie discuss why he values reading fiction; paradigms he would like to help shift; interests he has outside of reading; and what men can learn from reading fiction by women authors.
You can connect with Reggie
on instagram: here.
on goodreads: here.
on twitter: here.
Articles cited in this interview include:
“The Long Steady Decline of Literary Reading” by Christopher Ingraham and
“The Most Likely Person to Read a Book? A College-Educated Black Woman” by Philip Bump.