Black Men Reading: Meet Bookstagrammer Reginald Bailey PART ONE

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?

(photo courtesy of Reginald Bailey)

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.

(photo by Leslie Reese)

[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.

(photo by Leslie Reese)

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.

(photo by Leslie Reese)

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.

25 Comments

  1. Ok Yes, Yes, and YES to this post! Reggie is an interesting guy which I’m not surprised by. I’ve been following him on Instagram for a minute now. I loved learning how his reading has developed. It would be great to see more African-American men Bookstagramming like Reggie! Now I’m on to part 2!

    1. Guess what? When I first asked Reggie about doing this and invited him to read four interviews I had done previously on the blog, he said that after he read the opening exchange you and I did about #ReadSoulLit, he was all in!😁

  2. Finally finding the time to comment! I’m excited for this new series, Leslie. We rarely highlight black men reading, so this is great; and I’m happy you chose Reggie to have this conversation :).
    He had so many quote-ables! Fave Reggie quote from this conversation is:
    “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.” YES gawd! Going over to read part 2 now 🙂

    1. Yay! I’m glad you could spend some time reading and commenting, Darkowaa. Here’s hoping that you enjoy part two of Reggie’s talk as much as you enjoyed part one. I’m excited for this new series, too – I want to hear the perspectives of black men who read!

  3. Fantastic chat! Your point about having the every day books of the ordinary nonwhite characters struck a chord with me. Whenever I pick up my sons from school, I see so many nonwhite kids clutching white books, backpacks coated by white characters, and I just…it’s like kids, my own or anyone else’s, never get to meet a VARIETY of people. No. It shouldn’t be like that for my own kids, or anyone else’s kids. They deserve more.

    1. Jean Lee, you make a good point about how characters in children’s books, television programming, and movies often are featured in merchandise like the backpacks [that so many kids seem weighed-down-by, but that’s another post😂]. I agree with you that all children deserve to meet a VARIETY of people in books, and in life!

  4. I really enjoyed reading this interview with Reggie. It is always great to see other black men reading. Thanks Leslie, for this conversation.

  5. That was wonderful to read. I am excited that a young man is excited about reading. I buy every children’s book I can find with racially diverse characters. I have done that since the birth of my biracial child in 1975. I started with “A Snowy Day.” How grievous that a book about a little kid was seen as “groundbreaking.”

    1. Did you see Bernadette’s comment (She asked “why does it have to take so long?”for inclusiveness to get a foothold?)
      One of the beautiful things about A Snowy Day is that Peter gets to just be a little boy enjoying snow in the city. You must have an a great children’s book collection!

  6. Leslie, thanks for the introduction to Reggie. I particularly found interesting the part of the article dealing with children’s books. I always appreciated Sesame Street for being so inclusive but we do still have a long, long way to go. Why does it have to take so long?

    1. Hhhhhhhgggghhhhhhhhhhhghghg (heavy sigh!) Why, indeed, does it have to take so long? Our work continues to be cut out for us, doesn’t it?
      I haven’t viewed children’s programming in recent years, but I hope there are programs that are able to teach and delight with that spirit of inclusiveness and innovation that Sesame Street had.

  7. I love this new series, Leslie! I can find new book lovers to follow.
    It’s interesting that self-help books got Reggie into reading. It’s the first I’ve heard of that path toward a love of reading. I also agree that self-help books get a bad rep, but there are some good ones out there. These days I read less self-help books but listen to podcasts that cover the same topics.

    1. Thanks, Zezee! I’m not sure if you have covered this in the past, but maybe you could do a blog post about how you enjoy different genres and topics (i.e. when: ebook, physical book, audiobook, or podcast are preferred). Just a thought.

    1. Hi Monica – I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Reggie through our exchange. Of course, I couldn’t escape without adding some books to my TBR🙄😅….but it’s also been refreshing to get his perspective on topics that I don’t always get to talk about every day. Thank you for reading. I hope you like Part Two as much – if not more – than Part One!

  8. Thank you, Leslie and Reggie, for a wonderful conversation. I look around at the angry or nervous people I see on the buses I use, and I wonder: If more people spent their public transit time reading, wouldn’t their nerves be better and the rides be better for all of us? Also, I’m intrigued by Bookstagram — but it would cut into my reading and writing time! I’ll pass for now.

    1. Hi Margaret! Yes, it does seem that there are a lot of people on edge these days. I am grateful to know good people who are are adding love, kindness, and understanding to the world, and that – coupled with the way reading enlarges and deepens my appreciation of our human experience – does indeed temper some of my own anxieties.
      I am overdue for a visit to Margaret Serious, but I ‘m glad that hasn’t deterred you from spending some time on my blog site. Thank you!

  9. I always enjoy your posts, Leslie, but this one struck a chord, particularly where you talk about how black kids don’t necessarily always want to read Harriet Tubman, etc. Growing up Latina in New Mexico, I can relate to that because it seemed like every children’s book written about Hispanics or Latinos was always about the Spanish conquerors and Cesar Chavez, etc. Nothing wrong with that, but I would have loved to read about little girls like me and the same context of why we brush our teeth or possibly starting our periods, that sort of thing. Like a Judy Blume for Latinas. 🙂 I’m also following him on Instagram as I really enjoyed your interview with him and his perspective on race and how the publishing industry is indeed very white. As always, an excellent post and very thought-provoking as well.

    1. Hi Vanessa – your comment regarding children’s books about Hispanics or Latinos usually being about Spanish conquerors and figures like Cesar Chavez puts me in the mind of this idea that non-white portrayals have to be “exceptional” human beings in order to be worthy of acknowledgment. I’ve been enjoying spending a bit of time with children books,lately. Now you’ve got me curious about Hispanic/Latino, and other global voices in children’s books – maybe a blog post for the future!
      You took me back down memory lane with Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I looooovved that book once upon a time😊. Thank you as always for stopping by.

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