It is hard to believe the summer went by so fast.
We weren’t sure how it would turn out. Our literary circle had spent years, every Summer in June and July, gathering around gathering around the coffee table or at a local bookstore to talk all things Black lit and teenagers. Covid19 upended spring and summer, how could we still do it?
One of the things our team did was immediately consult with some of our teen readers to see if they thought it would be possible. They were jazzed at the idea of taking a local opportunity and expanding it. The wonders of making community in the air is that we were able to connect a lot of our virtual groups in helping us recruit readers from across the country. We did not pay for any advertising, we simply put up our flyer, posted it, and folks told other folks.
This summer, over Zoom, we had a group of about 26 readers. They were middle and high school. They were from the South, the Midwest, and the Northeast. They were reluctant readers and there because their parents wanted them to have something else to do besides watch TV during their summer that wasn’t, and they were there because they absolutely loved literature. They were there in the Zoom rooms and for most of them, they came every week, eager to be connected through the power of stories.
Our first paid intern engaged the middle school group, at first, and then found that her affinity was more in near-peer-dialogue with the high schoolers. We read some amazing books and had deep-dive discussions as the world raged outside their doors.
This summer was spent in the air, for this founder and director, as my family relocated from the Midwest to the Northeast. It was spent gathering more titles and it was spent wondering about each of the young Black lives that faced me every Tuesday. Their very lives were being debated and used as political fodder as protest in the middle of the pandemic questioned what it meant to be Black in 2020 and still fighting the fights their grandparents fought. Their analysis was probing and their questions were jarring.
While the summer did not have us catching rays and sipping iced mochas outside, it did have us exploring utopian/dystopian imaginations in a futuristic California, taking fantasy trips to West Africa, connecting technology to possibilities in Seattle, laughing with funny grandmothers on a Greenbook-like road trip, wondering about family stories in New York and DC, pondering relationships in Atlanta, and dreaming of colleges in every story. Literary works that featured nuanced story lines, relationship wonders, friendships, and family, all featured the Black diaspora in a way that was realistic, without the jarring stereotypes that threatens to make Black teens caricatures. The circle members delved below the surface of identity and meaning through what it means to be Black in Miami/Haiti or Black as a Nigerian American or Black and Mixed, Black and LGBTQ, Black and Rich, Black and SuperSmart, they explored what it meant to be Black and the only one in the school and Black in Suburbia.
Our summer ended with one of the most jovial conversations as they each shared their favorite read, introduced each other to books we did not cover in the summer but peer recommendations, and in the final segment, a conversation with sister authors who left them laughing and wanting more. None of us wanted it to end and had a yearning for more, but wait, there will be!
Summer 2021 is planned to be virtual. We can’t leave the communities we formed in cyberspace. Who knows what the pandemic will do and if we will open our doors again, but for a few Tuesdays, we will gather in front of the computer and talk books.
Want to plan ahead and join us? We are looking at June 1-August 3, 2021 from 3-5pm ET (12-2pm PT, 2-4pm CT). We will still meet over ten consecutive weeks. We have a floating start with our first book on June 15, 2021. There are so many amazing novels coming out that feature Black teens. We have an advisory council of teen readers who will help us pick the books, essays, and poetry we will cover.
To learn more, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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