This is what a room looks like when everyone's light can shine and we can candidly chop it up with a writer as brilliant as Wendy S. Walters (seated center). A woman whose unrelenting honesty made it ok for us to be honest as well. To tell her what we thought, what our favorite essays were, what we understood, what eluded us. When asked if she had a favorite essay in the book, Wendy's answer was this: "It's usually the pieces I'm working on now that I'm most excited about." Said another way, it's those things which elude us that make life worth living. Our last meeting was a good reminder that the best has yet to come. We'd like to thank The Brooklyn Circus for hosting yet another brilliant book club meeting; Sarabande Books for being last month's Literaryswag Book Club sponsors; Ariel Lewiton for doing the work of shedding light on Wendy's brillIance; Wendy herself for coming out to Brooklyn to be lit with, and to all the members who made it out. Till next time!
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but allow me to add a few more. Earlier this month I received an email from NBC, notifying me that, for everything I'd been doing to help make reading lit (pun partially intended), I was to be featured as part of NBCBLK28, their annual list of "young, gifted and Black futurists redefining what it means to be Black in America today through their work and accomplishments." They came to the crib, chopped it up, shot the #literaryswaglibrary, but they also wanted to get footage of the Book Club. While I was down with the idea, I was also a bit nervous about the presence of the camera making people feel like they couldn't be themselves. Something that would undermine the very reason for why the club exists. So when I sent out the newsletter, letting people know that NBC was pulling up, I was low key worried people weren't going to. We speak of faith as the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things unseen. Seldom do we speak of faith as a muscle that, like all muscles, only gets stronger with exercise. And what is exercise besides a commitment to the practice of work? This is why it'll forever be hard to practice faith. Part of any job is believing the work can be done. But you still have to do it. May not always be your best, or even good, but it's the belief that the work is worth it what makes you commit. Not the result. The work itself. It's a mistake to believe I'm the only one who's working though. Without knowing what's going to happen, who's going to be there, or what someone's going to say, people still come through, often by themselves, every month. So while we can say faith is the evidence of things unseen, faith is also its own proof that the belief in a vision is worth it, if you're willing to do the work. We were deep on Thursday. Not only in number but in thought. We lit!!!
2016's last meeting of The Literaryswag Book Club was everything, more than that, and then some. A smaller group meant a deeper dive into Clint Smith's Counting Descent. We each read our favorite poems from the collection. Talked about the nuances of excellence. That as long as excellence is defined by anyone else besides the person aspiring for it, it's not excellence. Least not yours. One of the newest members, Lonnie (back right), found out about the book club after reading the 30 Under 30 article in Brooklyn Magazine, came through and even participated in our White Elephant gift exchange. One of the best publicists in the literary game, Dawn Michelle-Hardy, came through and blessed the whole club with a bunch of books for the team. And I will never be able to thank The Brooklyn Circus enough for providing a reliable space to be lit. This has been an excellent year. For us. See you next year!!!
The more book club meetings there are, the more I'm learning to divorce myself from the concept of "tough love." Using tough as a modifier for the word love insinuates that love, itself, is easy. That anyone can do it. And anyone can. But there's a reason why many of us aren't about that life. Most of us knew James Baldwin was the best to ever do it, one of the nicest with the typewriter. But spending two hours only discussing the ways in which water is wet wouldn't have been wavy. To read Baldwin in this way also would've been irresponsible to his legacy. Not just as a writer; a human being. He spent so much of his time and energy and ink trying to convince white people of his humanity, so much energy and ink and anger defending his manhood, there were times when you weren't sure if the things he was saying were for others, or reminders for himself. Though it may not feel like it in the moment, sincere critique is an act of love. An act that removes the masks we fear cannot live without but also know we cannot live within. Last Thursday was spent removing Baldwin's mask, while also interrogating why he felt it necessary to don in the first place. To do this, we had to remove our own masks; explain why we felt it necessary to wear them and for who. Were we being our full selves, or were we each our own divided houses, barely standing? It was one of those conversations you don't expect to have with people you hardly know, because you barely have them with the people you do --and yet, you're appreciative for the opportunity. It's never easy; but always necessary. For that reason I am forever and always removing the term "tough love" from my vocabulary. Love is tough by design--and for good reason: by virtue of its difficulty, it lets you know when it's real. Also, that it's worth it. This book club is both and I couldn't be more appreciative for the opportunity. Thank y'all!
We were definitely smart as baby dolphins at Thursday night's book club. Nuratu came through with the Martinelli's, Nutella and breadsticks, Little Bites, Cheez-Its, the whole 9. We definitely had crystal in our diets. Something you need when you're seriously talking about the ways race, class, gender, and sexuality politics all seem to conspire in a way to make you feel like the person you are, when no one's looking, is incapable of being seen. Negroland gave us a lot to consider and that much more to talk about. There wasn't a better of group of people to chop it up with than the people in this photo. So from now till forever, I have to thank The Brooklyn Circus for providing us with the space to reflect on ourselves as human beings cause sometimes we forget that we are human. Also, I'm gonna need Brandon (far right) to show another emotion besides Kareem "Biggs" Burke. Even Biggs's laughing and smiling in interviews now. This ain't the 90s. Show them teeth, god
One of the first questions I remember being asked about this book club when it was still an idea was, "Who are you gonna get to come?" The more it was asked the more I realized what the real question was: "Why should I come?" On more than enough occasions it had been suggested that I get a high profile writer to attend. "A lot more people would come if they knew someone else they cared about was coming," I was told. Keeping it 100, those are the people I could care less about. Someone who was only gonna come because they heard someone else was gonna be there wasn't gonna be there for the right reasons—and I much rather have 5 people who were there because THEY wanted to be there than 500 people being there taking up space because they heard so-and-so might show. A lot's been done to get us into a mindset where we feel we're not enough. That we need a reason outside of ourselves to do the things we want to do. So we namedrop celebrities and big name brands not necessarily because we care about them. We just want people to care about us. Care is an inside job—and it's the reason why I worked overtime making sure there was always a space every month for people to take time and realize that something is dope because they're there. No one else. In the last twelve months we've had meetings in everywhere from the Trap (Strand Book Store) to Eva's Supplements on 11th Ave but I knew as long as I kept the club alive, it would eventually find a place to live. That's what happened Thursday when the big homie Ouigi announced at the 1 Year Anniversary that The Brooklyn Circus could be the home for The Literaryswag Book Club!!! Of course I accepted. You no longer have to worry about where the next book club will be, because we have a home. So this toast is not only an acknowledgement of everything it took to get here; it's a celebration, recognizing that it was all worth it. Every movement needs a home. We found ours—and it's lit!!!
Around this time last year I chopped it with NY Times photojournalist Michelle Agins who won a Pultizer in 2001 for a series called "How Race is Lived in America." The first thing I asked--cause I'm a clown—was what she did with the money. Her being from the Southside of the Chi, she kept it 100 with me: "I had a fish fry." It is still, to this day, the most gangsta shit I've ever heard someone do with prize money. And she didn't go to a fish market. She sent for the whole aquarium. When one of her friends asked her who was gonna eat all this food, Michelle told me she said one thing: "If I fry it, they will come." Sure enough, they did. I tell this story because it's how I've learned to run these #literaryswagbookclub meetings. Every month some curveball is being thrown—inclement weather, last minute venue changes, not having enough Martinelli's (last night)—but I'm seeing that as long as there's a book club to come to, people will come. Won't always be the same people (there's more people one month; less the next) but the importance is to just keep doing it. So thank you to the people who came through to chop it up last night, and were willing to relocate when it rained. Thank you to @nothankya for sponsoring the Martinelli's. Thank you to @dulceflecha who came through with the snacks. And I gotta thank Eve's for not kicking us out even tho we took up a whole section and only bought $9 worth of stuff. This is the 8th meeting of the Book Club and next month marks a year since the first one so you know we gonna have to do it Christopher Wallace. Faith and commitment got us this far. I'm sure it will only take us further!
Last week's Literaryswag Book Club meeting might've looked light but it was extremely heavy. Like talking about Claudia Rankine's Citizen in the midst of the madness heavy. But being able to talk through it definitely lifted the burden and lightened the load if only for a little while. Not to mention, it didn't even rain. Pettiness aside I am extremely grateful for the people—especially the women—who continue to come out no matter what. Thank you!!!
Another month, another book down for the Literaryswag Book Club. Bless up all the people who came through. Y'all could've been anywhere in the world, doing anything but y'all spent it in Washington Sq. Park, drinking Martinelli's, talking about books and life. I appreciate that. I appreciate Nuratu for putting the Martinelli's on ice (nice touch). I especially thank Rony from Seattle (back left) who strolled up on the set, asked if he could join us, and took part in the convo. He knew nothing about a literary or a swag. He just knew we were a group of people talking about books and wanted in. That he felt comfortable enough to walk up and want to chop it up with us is a sign that we're cultivating the aesthetic I'd hoped for.
When I started the Literaryswag Book Club back up, I'd tell my friend, Brandon, how the most important thing for was to make sure it happened every month. If we didn't have somewhere to hold the meetings, we'd find one. If no one wanted to put up money for the Martinelli's, we'd scramble and pull together our own funds. It wouldn't matter if there were 2 people or 200. Every month. No matter what. We'd find a way. As long we kept doing it, the people will come. If not immediately; eventually. So far the theory has proven true. People are coming from near and far. Last month @thelexflex and @johnette_reed came all the way from DC. This month @anty_stylish and @dorce_time came from Maryland. Queens was in the house (@natethedragon , @m.castles , @nothankya , @milli.goat, and @writerslens ). Staten Island (@mrprolificb). The BX (@iamyirenkyi). Jersey (@stevensosasees). Of course Brooklyn was in the 🏠 (@robb_media , @jponce7 , @davis_alexander_games , @randybw_1—many people here hold dual citizenship. Point is, this book club is steadily becoming an anchor for people who want to read good books, chop it up with good people, hold better conversations and drink the best damn apple juice ever. It's only a matter of time before people are packing their books, swags and passports and flying in to catch the wave.
Every last Thursday of the month I worry I'll be the only one there at these book club meetings. I go because of faith. And every last Thursday my faith is renewed by the people who continuously come. Last night was exceptional, especially since two new members of the book club—Alex and Johnette—came all the way from DC to attend. Not to mention my homegirl from high school, Jocelyn, came through. My anxiety of wanting these meetings to go well intensify with every month. But so does my faith that they will.
Countless curve balls were thrown yesterday but, being the designated hitters we are, we rose to the occasion and knocked it out of the park for a home run book club meeting!!! And as demonstrated by Kyle (pictured far right) the Martinelli's was, in fact, on deck.
Thank you to the bodies who came out last night. And a special thanks to @davegershman for blessing us with a space to bring our bodies, talk about them in relation to each other, drink Martinelli's and let our ultralights beam!
A close friend of mine said they read books because books "made him feel less lonely in the world." The sentiment resonated. Books also make me feel less lonely in the world--and it's because they give me the language that brings me closer to people. With this book club, I try to pick books that not only gives people the language they didn't know they were looking for to help them understand themselves and others. I try to pick books that give people a sense that the time taken to read them is worth it. The conversation that took place last month about Olivia Laing's The Lonely City (Picador) was one that showed me how communal it is to talk about loneliness. If "speaking," as Laing wrote, "is almost as terrifying as being ignored;" being in a room where you're listened to allays the terror of being ignored. The world opens up when we allow ourselves to listen. When we make ourselves vulnerable to what it has to say. That work is never easy, but it's necessary. The path towards freedom is not one of least resistance, but it's the most vindicating. And every month is a step in the right direction. We lit!