by Tyler Calder
If you’ve been to a book club recently – in your community, with your friends, or even through GNI – you know that these gatherings have a world of excitement (and often snacks!) to offer. There’s the people you meet, the books you discuss, and the moments, characters, plot points, and passages that move you, bring you together, or create room for discussion.
Glory Edim is no stranger to book clubs – she’s been attending them her whole life. It was this love of literature, an admiration for writers of color, and her desire to amplify Black voices that led her to start Well-Read Black Girl. What once started as a small book club in Brooklyn has grown to a large online community, a book festival, and a book of her very own. We recently sat down with Glory to talk about the whirlwind few years (and the T-shirt!) that brought her literary dreams to life.
How did you decide to start with a book club? Did you know the trajectory you wanted it to take from the beginning?
A couple of things helped crystallize [starting a book club] for me – first, the encouragement from my partner, who originally gifted me the [Well-Read Black Girl] shirt. He encouraged me from the start. Then, a book club felt like the natural first step because I’ve always been in book clubs – from Girl Scouts to college and after. The biggest difference with this one is the impact of social media because it created a broad community online.
I didn’t anticipate this huge outpouring of support, though. I think movements that were already developing online, from Black Lives Matter to We Need Diverse Books, helped contribute to that. People were already looking for reflections from within the publishing industry, and I happened to create something that was right in that scene.
I would have never predicted the success and the anthology coming so quickly, but I did think the natural next step was a literary festival because I’ve always gone to them. The Brooklyn Book Festival is my favorite thing in the world. I thought the first festival would be in 2018 but one of my mentors, Tayari Jones, encouraged me to do it sooner. Like they always say, do it before you’re ready.
When did you know the next step was to publish a book?
After the first festival, I realized there were so many great conversations that took place. I went back and listened to them and I thought they’d make great content for a book. Originally, I thought it might be a photo book or a coffee table book – then after some research, I realized I wanted to look at some essays.
I also generally love second iterations of things, and Well-Read Black Girl [the book] feels like that to me. I had a zine and a Tumblr in college named “Black Girl Reader,” where I explored similar themes; I’ve always come from the lens of being a woman of color and being first-generation (both my parents are from Africa). At Howard, an HBCU, this was always something that was a focal point of my education and how I viewed the world. I’ve always come from a place of multiculturalism and diversity – it’s how I live my life.
Did you surprise yourself at all when you were creating the book?
I gained a new appreciation for being self-disciplined and being able to ask for help. For some parts of the process, I relied heavily on my editor, Emily, to help guide me. But there were other things I felt confident about and knew I had expertise in, particularly when it came to the aesthetic and layout of the book. I knew instinctively how I wanted the book to look and the feeling I wanted people to feel when reading it. I wanted them to feel like they were in conversation with the contributor and getting a very real and candid look into their lives.
I wanted to emulate that feeling that many women had in our book club meetings – that feeling when you encounter someone with a different background or experience than your own, and then all of a sudden you’re sharing a moment over the characters of a book. What happens when you can be vulnerable with one another and find empathy through storytelling? That’s the energy I wanted to create while reading it.
Sure, there were moments when I thought, “I don’t know if I can do this.” I had moments of self-doubt, especially because I was working with such titans and people I really admire. There were moments when I thought, “Who am I to do this?” I had to get that voice out of my head and refill it with positive self-talk and be clear that this was something I created and deserved to do and had the ability to do.
What is the best advice you received throughout the writing process, and what advice would you give to someone trying to create a thing?
My biggest takeaway from all of this is to do the thing that you want to do and don’t sit in perfectionism. Just get it out there and learn everything you can along the way.
What’s inspiring you right now?
I went to see Michelle Obama [on tour for Becoming] with my mom. She’s incredible and I was so moved by her words, her resilience, and her fortitude. You see her beauty, her strength, and just the fact that she’s not easily assuaged – I want to be like that. I really want to stand strong in my story and have people come along with me in that.
I loved that in your book, you talk about how a constant for many Black women authors is the idea of “becoming” and then Michelle Obama named her book that!
It feels like an out-of-body experience! The idea of having to become who you want to be and telling your own story – that feeling and that determination is not exclusive to black women. All women go through that – finding who they are, standing in their truth. It’s so crucial to our lived experience. Your story of becoming matters.
There was so much of my childhood that I spent engulfed in the stories of other people and it’s only now that I feel brave enough to tell my own story.
What type of reader are you? Is there a “right” balance of educational and leisure reading we should be striving for?
I have a few ways I approach reading. With this community, I approach it as a facilitator where I’m trying to impart knowledge and make sure the community members have a full understanding of the text and the author and why it’s important to read certain things – especially history. There are so many instances where black history is not elevated or recognized in spaces, academia, or popular culture. So the reason my book club is called Well Read Black Girl is to amplify the voices of black storytellers. That feels really vital to my mission and how I read.
Another part of me reads for nourishment and to be inspired by the word. There are so many things I read because they make me feel good. I read things continuously – whether it’s a poem by Nikki Giovanni or a novel by Toni Morrison. I think of my work as a continuum of their work and I want to honor them.
Then, there are other stories I read to study. I recently read the book, There There by Tommy Orange and I was blown away because I had never read his writing before. I love to read to be surprised by the word and how people tell stories. Storytelling feels so vital to my existence. I love how people tell stories – the mechanisms behind that and why people are drawn to certain sentences. I’m so taken by that.
What does self-care mean to you – as a reader, a writer, a community organizer, and a creative?
More than anything, I need to feel fulfilled. On one hand, I need to be able to focus and have clarity, which is why I’m constantly writing things out and making vision boards. I also realize self-care means taking the steps to physically take care of myself. I sleep, and I’m serious about it. When I’m ready to sleep I’m like, okay, mask on, lights out, and humidifier going with some eucalyptus in the air.
I create an environment where I can be my most relaxed self. Now we have a word for it – self-care – but I’ve always done this. You can’t be productive if you’re exhausted.
What are you reading right now?
The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers by Bridgett Davis and Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Which routine are you most committed to?
SLEEP! And my tea routine.
Cook or order in?
Good show or good podcast?
Bathleisure or athleisure?
Bathleisure. I love a good robe.
What self-care items can you not leave home without?
Lavender and roll-on eucalyptus. I also love my Boscia Charcoal Cleanser.
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