If you’ve spent any time on Bookstagram over the last couple weeks, you’ve probably seen posts inspired by the #OnceYouGoBlackOut Challenge. Started by Reggie (@reggiereads), Traci (@thestackspod), Renée (@book_girl_magic), Marlowe (@lowelowexxoo), Leah (@exlibrislls), Anna (@never_withouta_book), and Jaime (@asborbedinpages). #OnceYouGoBlackOut is focused on celebrating little-known titles by black authors.
We interviewed these awesome bookstagrammers to hear more about the challenge and what it means to them:
How did the idea for the #onceyougoblackout come about?
Reggie: Traci, Renée, Leah, Lowe, Jaime, Anna & I read a book together every other month. During December we read Black No More by George Schuyler, which is a still relevant and classic satire from 1931. During that read we all discussed doing something as a group for Black History Month, and the rest is history.
Leah: We wanted to raise awareness about the richness, complexity and depth of literature by black authors. I personally am glad that Black History month exists but feel very strongly that our intelligence, beauty, talent, culture, and vast contributions to the world should be celebrated and appreciated 365 days a year.
How have works by black authors impacted your lives?
Renée: It’s the sole reason I started Book Girl Magic. In the hopes of diversifying my reading. I grew up not knowing much about my history as a black person and really wanted to explore it. I thought reading with others would be a fun way to do so.
Traci: I am a Black woman, and hearing stories of people who look like me, have lived like me, or have lived completely different than me has been life altering. I truly believe representation matters. Seeing something, reading something, that is powerful stuff. Not to mention, when Black folks write these narratives, or histories, or whatever, they are centering an experience that is so often erased from the general understanding. For example, Medical Apartheid is a book about about Black folks being used for medical tests etc. In this book we get to see J. Marion Sims in a whole new way, not to mention the Margaret Sanger and so many people that are so often celebrated. Without the Black lens, people are often celebrated instead of held to task.
Leah: It challenges the way I think. It lifts me up when I am down. It speaks truth to power without fear of reprisal and encourages me to do the same.
Marlowe: My mother was a very avid reader and I took after her at a young age. She never told me I needed to read age appropriate things. So I read lots of Dean Koontz and Stephen King in middle school. It wasn’t until I read ‘Mama’ by Terry McMillan that I felt like I saw (if not myself) my family and people I knew. There is something to be said for the experience of seeing yourself in a book. You crave it more and you crave it in all different types of stories. Not just ones that show the struggle of everyday Black life in America. We are so much more than that.
This challenge really highlights less celebrated titles and authors…was there a specific title or a handful of titles that really inspired this challenge?
Marlowe: The thoughts behind this challenge probably began with our buddy read of Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon. The fact that such a celebrated author’s unpublished work was finally being brought to light was definitely inspirational. It makes you think about what treasures may have been lost to time and needed to be reintroduced to a different generation.
Jaime: There wasn’t a specific title that inspired the challenge. It was mainly just the purpose behind amplifying the books you rarely see on Bookstagram by black authors that really inspired us to create the challenge. Instagram can be an echo chamber sometimes where you can see the same book being posted about and this was a way to counter that to black authors who do not have the marketing that white authors have.
Traci: I think more than anything it was just to celebrate the titles we weren’t seeing all the time on #bookstagram. Don’t get me wrong #bookstagram is a great place, but it is a major echo chamber. Mostly for white books, mostly for new books, mostly for fiction books, mostly for the books that publishers have a large budget behind. To me its important to read the classics, to read the things that have been forgotten because of our obsessions with newness. Plus, I personally want to see more nonfiction in general. Thats my jam.
Has the response to this challenge been what you expected?
Jaime: Yes, the bookstagram community is a very accepting community. There have been many readers who have reached out by showing support for the challenge and what we are doing. To see everyone really get behind the challenge, participate and get excited about it was exactly what I had anticipated.
Anna: The response to this challenge is beyond what I expected! With other BHM challenges going on, I just thought we would get a handful of participants but boy was I wrong! The book community has embraced our movement and it’s taking off! I’ve seen many of the books mentioned by everyone added to goodreads TBR list.
Renée: It’s been way more than I think any of us expected. We’ve had a great response from a wide variety of readers.
How does having a black narrator add power to audiobooks written by black authors?
Traci: Voices matter. Understanding the context and meaning of language is imperative especially when dealing with Black culture. Black folks are known for oral tradition and story telling, and having a Black person read an audiobook is part of that.
Anna: You don’t need to teach a black person to be black It’s in our DNA, our experiences are all right there, so having a black narrator read a book written by a black author is just a no brainer.
Reggie: Although I don’t listen to audiobooks one thing I know that a Black narrator adds is authenticity. When we read these stories we know some of these characters. Some of them are reflections of our parents, siblings, cousins, best friends, significant others. Because we have been around these characters all of our lives we have an idea of how they would say certain things, how loud they would be, how quiet, how enthusiastic, amongst other adjectives.
What happens after the challenge is over, where do you hope to take this movement?
Jaime: I hope once the challenge is over that readers continue to read books by black authors and continue to use the hashtag to create awareness about black stories.
Leah: This is only the beginning. We will never stop sharing and promoting books by black authors and other authors of color. The hope is to have those who love to read continue to choose books by black authors. We want people to read and then discuss what they have read. Reading followed by conversation about what you’ve read is key.
Anna: This challenge is never over. The plan and goal are to continue to highlight more books and authors throughout the year. Most of us have highlights on our accounts and another form of reference is to follow and using the hashtag #onceyougoblackout. More giveaways and great recommendations to come.
We encourage you to join in the challenge by using #onceyougoblackout and you can also find a playlist on Libro.fm curated by the hosts of #OnceYouGoBlackOut.