Anyone interested in forming or joining a discussion group will find a wealth of information on this page.
Mosaic Books' list of book clubs http://www.mosaicbooks.com/bookclub.html
this very popular national Reading Group
Go On Girl! Book Club, Inc.
The Largest National Reading Group for Black Women whose mission statement
Expanding the members' personal literary experience by reading quality works written by authors of African descent.
Encouraging responsible writing & publishing of literature written by people of African descent
Providing an open forum for the exchange of ideas & opinions
Exposing the African-American community at large to literature written by people of African descent by:
African American Sister-Brother Book
Club in Greenville, SC.
Reads fiction and non-fiction books, and meets every six weeks and are open to all African-American men and women. The contacts are Taji Richardson (864-271-2374) and Ernestine Brockman (864-458-7043). Although based in Greenville, this reading group meets all over South Carolina, including Greenville, Anderson, Columbia, Charleston, and even at the Ski Beech, NC ski resort.
The History of African-American
Source: Robert Fleming - One World Books
Recommended, rewarding books for your reading group
More than ever before, African-Americans are sharing the joy of reading books by forming literary societies. The number of reading circles, now meeting in apartments and libraries across the country, has skyrocketed as publishers offer a wider variety of literature celebrating the African Diaspora. Black reading groups seem to be a trend wherever a handful of people can find a quiet spot to discuss their favorite books, reflecting on their common experience while taking a breather from life's demanding pace.
The history of African-American literary societies begins in the 1800s, when freed blacks organized the groups to plan action for the antislavery movement. Blacks living in slavery were punished if they were caught reading or carrying a book. Southern states prohibited socializing in even small numbers, but Northern societies enjoyed the much needed opportunities to socialize, to read the latest abolitionist tracts, and to exchange news of their oppressed brethren living below the Mason-Dixon line. They read the Bible, performed their own poetry or narratives, and laid the groundwork for community newspapers, clubs, and free schools.
Books and reading were essential ingredients in the fight to uplift the race. The African-American Female Intelligence Society was organized in Boston around 1830, for the diffusion of knowledge, the suppression of vice and immorality, and for cherishing such virtues as will render us happy and useful to society. Other reading groups were formed during the early 1830s to encourage reading and education as a tool to combat prejudice. Black women in New York started a Colored Ladies Literary Society. Black men in Pennsylvania founded the Young Men's Literary, Moral Reform Society and the Philadelphia Library Company of Colored Persons, which built libraries for their book-starved communities.
These societies reflected the political and artistic climate of the nation. In the postCivil War era, they hit membership peaks as many former slaves sought to capitalize on their newly won freedom. The groups hit a decline during the roller-coaster ride of the American economy in the first half of this century. With the resurgence of black pride and the Afrocentric movement of the 1960s and 1970s, African-Americans of all ages sought out books which strongly reinforced positive images of themselves and their communities. That momentum continued through the lean 1980s as reading groups grew and more books were published by African-American writers.
Today, a growing number of African-American women and men across the country gather once or twice a month in libraries, restaurants, homes, and apartments to discuss books. Over fifty black literary societies meet regularly, according to Sandra West, who recently wrote the first major study of these groups. Book lovers come from all walks of life: students, professionals, blue- collar types, and members of fraternities and sororities. Their common aim is to make the African-American community more aware of its treasured writers while expanding its tastes beyond the limits of the best-seller lists. Without a doubt, black literary societies are thriving and are here to stay.
SANDRA WEST, founder of the Frances E. W. Harper Literary Society, Newark, N.J.
Probably no one knows the rich tradition of African-American literary societies as well as Sandra West. West, who is currently working on a history of the societies, founded one of the country's most respected reading groups, in 1987 in Newark, New Jersey. She recently relocated to Savannah, Georgia, where she immediately organized a new group, the Paul Robeson Reading Group, using the model of her earlier success.
"I'm very aware of the tradition of the black literary societies," West said recently. "They served us well during our struggle with slavery. I think there are several reasons why there has been a resurgence of the groups. The new black middle class who went to college in the 60s and 70s loves to read. They are supporting black writers and buying books from black bookstores. We have wonderful writers currently on the scene. Every major literary award has been won by writers of color since the late 1980s."
A chronicler of black literary trends, West noted that she expected the renewed interest in African-American literature to continue. "There are so many good books out there," she added. "The number of black literary groups is growing rapidly. Most of these groups are affiliated with bookstores, so they are tapped right into the source. Some groups become multicultural and embrace the works of writers from Africa and South America. I don't agree with people who believe we should just read books by African-Americans. There are so many good worlds, so many good writers out there to be explored."
West dismissed the notion that only women are flocking to the bookstores and literary societies. "Men are reading just as much as women," she explained. "They are forming clubs and joining mixed groups all over the place. People are discovering the joy of reading. The 1990s are a time when people are very isolated and lonely, probably more than any other time. Reading can be good company on a quiet evening. These groups have become like a family for many members. Many singles are joining the groups instead of partying or going to bars. Its a great way to meet people."
LANA TURNER, founder of the New York Literary Society
Lana Turner started in 1982 with 15 people sitting in the living room of a friend's home. Turner has garnered much praise for the society, whose membership is now nearing 100. Activities include its annual Read-In during Black History Month in February and literary salons featuring prominent writers held in historic Harlem houses. The group meets monthly except during the summer months.
"We cover all genres, all literature from Africans to our own authors," Turner said in a recent interview from her Harlem apartment. "We do not read Europeans. We're strictly Afrocentric in our reading. We want to support our authors who may not get the attention."
Members are different in personality, economic class, and educational achievement, but that does not hinder their discussions of the books. "Our members are as different as night and day," Turner explained. "It is through our literature that we can explore our similarities and differences. We think about things on a deeper level and discover new elements of ourselves. You often hear people saying: `I never knew I thought that."
A different person moderates each session, bringing a freshness and vitality to each meeting, and participation is encouraged by all.
"Each person brings their own personality to the discussion," Turner said. "Some people summarize and throw out ideas, while others set up the basic themes to get the ball rolling. It's all up to the moderator. Sometimes well get stuck on a question until the moderator keeps the flow going. Some groups come together as friends. They talk about children and families. That is not the case with our group. We're there to discuss the book. We save the socializing until we've dealt with the book. The meetings are held at a different home each month throughout the area. No one is against traveling as long as we get a chance to discuss good books."
At a recent Read-In, nearly 200 were turned away after the hall was filled to capacity. "There is a hunger now for good writing," Turner concluded. "Our people are just waiting to read words written about them by their own authors. They want to hear these words read. They want to talk about these words. It's affirmation and discovery. There is still a need to come together and talk about who you are. Its our history and we haven't forgotten it."
For many people this is the part that's the most fun.
Consider all of the issues which will become the glue for this collection of personalities. Here are some essentials:
The following list of current reading groups in American cities was furnished by Sandra West, who is writing a history of African- American literary societies and their political and cultural importance to the black community. Check the roster for one near you.
Imani-Nia Book Study Group
DENVER, COLORADO (303) 293-2665
Hue-Man Experience Bookstore
Reads all genres, monthly meetings.
African American Literary Group
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA (706) 868-0106
Discusses fiction and non-fiction.
Paul Robeson Reading Group
SAVANNAH, GEORGIA (912) 236-4671
Open membership for exchange on books by writers of the African diaspora.
Community Book Forum
BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA (504) 356-0076
Kwaku O. Kushindana
Open to people of all ages.
Pyramid Book Club
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND (410) 727-7961
Discusses fiction and non-fiction.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS (617) 547-7162
Thomas Ellis or Sharon Strange
Meets to discuss established and new writers.
Women's Cultural Club
DETROIT, MICHIGAN (313) 273-3733
Membership open to men and women.
ESSEX COUNTY, NEW JERSEY (908) 464-9377
Open to women only.
Frances E. W. Harper Literary Society
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY (201) 482-7127
Reads fiction and non-fiction.
Zora Neale Hurston Literary Society
PLAINFIELD, NEW JERSEY (908) 561-7566
Open to women only.
New York Literary Society
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
270 Convent Ave.
New York, N.Y. 10031
Discusses all genres.
Second Sunday Black Women's Literary Club
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA
(919) 477-5805 after 7 p.m.
Discusses fiction and non-fiction.
Chapter One: A Literary Sisterhood
Reads all genres, stressing women authors.
Ascension Poetry Reading Series
E. Ethelbert Miller
Reads the works of all authors of color.
Open Reading Group
Stafford Battle or Terence Cooper
Affiliated with the African Heritage Literature Society.
Let's Concentrate on Us
Open to women only.
The Book Seekers Club
The Hattiesburg Public Library
Hattiesburg, MS 39401
books by and about African-Americans
Valerie Wilson Wesley, author of the hot new mystery, When Death Comes Stealing, filed the following current reading list:
Walter Mosley, author of the mystery Black Betty, is on a book tour, but has packed some tomes for the hotel nights.
Ralph Wiley saw his new collection of controversial essays, What Black People Should Do Now, stir debate in African-American communities across the nation. This is what he's reading now...
Text and interviews by Robert Fleming. For more information, please write to ONE WORLD BOOKS, 201 E. 50th St., New York, NY 10022.