1. For Us, By Us has taken on new meaning these last few years. Whether it be mainstream or low-key, the Black cultural spectrum has produced a wide range of inclusive outlets for Black people to connect and grow our community in a positive light. A recent spike, in particular, Black people are engaging in to collectively empower our excellence is book clubbing. The community that a book club provides encourages readers to not only ask important questions relative to the given reading, but also consider questions that relate to our everyday lives. But if you're like us sis, we want a place where Black women can retreat to discover stories written by authors who look like us. 
  2. Thankfully, poet and founder of For Colored Girls Book Club, Gizelle Fletcher, possesses that same desire. As an avid book lover, Gizelle had one intention in mind: to create an encouraging space for Black women who have considered not reading anymore because all the books were written by straight white men. 
  3. In honor of Black History Month, we partnered with Gizelle on a 21-Day Book Challenge to celebrate influential Black, female authors, poets, essayists and entrepreneurs who tell our stories the way they should be told. 

    1. I had the pleasure to speak with Gizelle on why she chose her book recommendations, what inspired her to create For Colored Girls Book Club, and why it's important for Black, female authors to amplify our voices through the art of literature. 
    2. Check out our exclusive interview with Gizelle Fletcher below.
  4. Photo: For Colored Girls Book Club
  5. 21Ninety: How did the concept for For Colored Girls Book Club come to be? What inspired you to create a community for Black women to explore Black authors? 

Gizelle Fletcher: I love this question. I'm from Jamaica originally — I left at 18 to go to college — and I recently got my MFA in poetry at the University of Florida. All of my professors were white. The authors they would bring in for visitor series were white. The editors they would bring in to review our work were white. You get where this is going (laughs), all the people we read in classes and workshops, the poets were encouraged to emulate, they were all white. And it was really frustrating because I wasn't seeing anybody Black. No Black women. So, I had to go find those stories on my own. The University of Florida has this really dope collection called the Latin American and Caribbean Collection — there's this whole bunch of books with all the languages from practically everybody in the Caribbean. There were Haitian authors, Dominican, Cuban, Jamaican, Belizian, Venezuelan. I drooled, I legit drooled, I'm not embarrassed to say. So, I dove into these books and I loved them, and all I wanted was to talk to people about them. But outside of my friend group, I didn't have people to discuss these books with when I was at UF. And then I moved to Indianapolis — didn't have friends, didn't have any connects — and just wanted to talk about books. So I started this book club and its first name was Black Girls Read Book Club, and our first meeting was January 2018, we were supposed to read Halsey Street by Naima Coster but nobody showed up (laughs)! No one came. It was just me and my feelings, and it ended there. And I got frustrated — not going to lie — then somebody suggested that we bring in other voices to talk about stories and get online to start the conversation there. And that's what I did! But I wanted to change the name too, because Black Girls Read Book Club while, you know, speaks for itself, I wanted something that reached for another work by a Black woman author that says what it's about in the name. And I think For Colored Girls Book Club encapsulates all of that. So I changed the name, we got online, we meet once a month, and now I get to talk about books!

  1. Photo: For Colored Girls Book Club
  2. 21N: Why is it important for today’s Black, female authors to educate our society with stories from the Black community?

GF: I don't know if I would say it's important for us to educate, I would say it's important for us to amplify voices that resonate with us. Voices that speak with some element of our experience that is, otherwise, not found in the media. So I think it's very important for Black women authors to get their stuff out there, but also talk about the people who have inspired them. Tell stories using stories. I think it's very important for Black voices to proliferate. 

  1. 21N: For Colored Girls Book Club is based in Indianapolis, how often do you lead your book discussions? Is there an online community where book lovers outside of Indianapolis can participate in the discussion? 

GF: At this point, the extent to which that exists is our Instagram and our Facebook pages. We'll post about books, and there will be lots of discussions on what's going on in the book or how I feel about the book, I loved that book, I hated that book, that character was a little problematic but I can understand where she's coming from. So, that's where that happens. But going forward, I do want to formalize spaces like that more on the internet where you can literally go. And the intention is to talk about books. At this point, for For Colored Girls Book Club administrative wise, it's a one-woman show. It's me. There's so many things I want to do, but I can only do so much.  

  1. Photo: For Colored Girls Book Club
  1. 21N: We partnered with you for a 21-Day Book Challenge to highlight influential and talented Black, female authors. What prompted you to suggest the book recommendations that you did?

GF: I choose books that stay with me after I closed it. Books that I can remember the main character's name. When I'm in a book — I have all the characters, I'm in the world, I'm drinking the Kool-Aid — I'm with it. But sometimes, when I close the book, I can't recall as easily. My favorite books are those that years after I cannot stop talking about them. I also tried to not just recommend fiction. I tried to recommend nonfiction, memoirs, essays, and poems. 

  1. 21N: If you could meet one Black, female author — dead or alive — who would it be, and why?

GF: I wouldn't want to meet someone just to say that I met them. I would want to meet someone that I can actually talk to about their book and what inspired them to write it. I would want to meet Audre Lorde! She comes out with new books, but they just repackage her essays so it's interesting to see how each of her stories — even though it's nonfiction — fits within the larger narrative arc of a work of nonfiction. Some of her works weren't meant to come together in a cohesive way, but they do. And each time it's like reading a really good poem, but every time I see a different essay, or every time I see the same essay but within a different narrative of a book — I guess if you want to think of it like that — then it means something slightly different. The core message is still the same, but it takes on these brand new dimensions. Her essay, Uses of the Erotic, that was in Sisters Outside and was also in I Am Your Sister, but each time it forced me to look different aspects of what she was talking about: the erotic, sexuality, Black women. So, yeah, Audre Lorde! That is my answer (laughs).

  1. 21N: What has been the most rewarding aspect since starting For Colored Girls Book Club? 

GF: The most rewarding part is the Instagram comments that say I'm going to get this book or I'm going to read this now or I loved this book. So, encouraging dialog around books and literature and stories under the banner of For Colored Girls Book Club has been the most rewarding thing for me. 

  1. Photo: For Colored Girls Book Club
  1. 21N: Are there any projects you are currently working on? What can we expect to see from you and For Colored Girls Book Club in 2019?

GF: That is an excellent question. Top notch. Do I have an answer? I don't know! (laughs)

21N: TBD. To be determined. 

GF: TBD! Stay tuned! (laughs)

  1. 21N: Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for Black women interested in starting their own book clubs? 

GF: Just do it! That sounds like a dumb phrase, but just do it. Honestly. Nobody might come to the first meeting, nobody might come to the second meeting, but eventually, you'll get there. If it's something you want to do, keep going. And bring in other voices to tell stories about telling stories. 

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