The Off Season

I’m not a sports-person, by any stretch. I barely watched the Olympics and the only thing I really remember from the playoffs -of any sport – is the half-time show and the snacks. But there is something about that thought of an off-season that is resonating with us over at the literary circle.

Our season has shifted a bit as we relocated from the Midwest to the Northeast. Most of our circlers are on EDT with school schedules that more resemble what it was like when I was younger – after Labor Day to the first-day-of-summer. In our move to understanding more of the mid-August to early-September back-to-school season, we also did some shuffling of our line-up.

We remained virtual for 2021 and with the Delta Variant about to be the Mu Variant and every other letter of the Greek alphabet if we are not careful, are planning for 2022 to be virtual also, with a twist.

Home base is in Connecticut, home to. mask mandates in towns like New Haven, Hartford, and Fairfield. We sit along the Long Island Sound with enough outdoor spaces to gather safely. We are also home to several universities and a rising curiosity in how reading diverse literature really is not all that scary. So, we are thinking of our 2022 kick-off to be a bit of a hybrid model. We still have several circle members in other states and really value their input in our communal exploration of Afrodiasporan literature.

But we are embracing opportunity, so in our off-season, we are examining our playbook of the past decade, making decisions about shifting from middle-and-high school to just a high-school model, and looking at partnering with some local bookstores and writers that dot the shoreline. It is inspirational up here and that is part of what we wanted with our years and years of engaging with Black teens in the beauty of their story.

Some things about us will remain the same. We will still have a children’s book week and celebrate the emerging artists of color who have captured the diversity of being Black in some really innovative ways. Poetry, of course, will always be our week to muse and marinate on a line that really captivates us, and we will delve into social/racial/economic/gender/housing topics through some essays or non-fiction works. The remaining six weeks will be all literature, not fan-fiction or even graphic fiction, but serious writing that gets them thinking and talking about life, that is what makes us unique. We don’t select from the top 10 or top 100 fiction list, some of our books are more obscure or from emerging writers with a strong voice. Engaging with authors has been one of the ways we gained great reads, and perusing used book stores, talking to booksellers who actually read books, and keeping a pulse on whatever our circle alumni are telling us is important.

Come and visit us, make a recommendation to us, help us curate our list. We spend the off-season reading a lot of books, some are YA fiction and some are not, each gives a nuance into a theme that sets the summer. As the demographics of the country continue to reflect more people of the global majority, it is more important that nonAnglo centered stories we heard and not just by nonAnglo teens. Our focus, though, remains a “we space” for those readers whose lives are not represented in the curricula for their English lit classes or stuck in the time of enslavement or the sixties.

We understand also the business side of this. All up and down the publishing pipeline, diversity is lacking. The Other Black Girl is a book I’m currently reading that takes a slight comedic approach about the elephant in the room. It is with that in mind that when we do find a great book by an African American author, especially, we at least give it a consideration. We knew what it took to get there. African American writers are sometimes pushed out or edited out to have a stereotypical story while Caribbean and West African writers have the space to just create, to develop sound characters, and dwell in the beauty of words. We are hoping this changes. It wasn’t lost on us that we read more non-American Black writers this year and are thinking through the way the industry celebrates one at the expense of others. While that is lamented and our focus is on Black teens, we also realize that Asian teens have even fewer authentic stories – and “Asian” is about as generic as “Black” because non are a monolith. There are fewer stories for Muslim teens (of any ethnicity), Latinx teens that are not a stereotype, or any category of “other” that exists in this dawning of the second decade in a changing America. I hope this changes.

In our imagination, all the stories are told, for we are story, we can learn from each other and gain a sense of our connection through understanding what it is like. Until then, we only catch a glimpse. For African American teens, that glimpse is very much clouded in erasing parts of themselves beyond the period of enslavement and human trafficking that marked four hundred years of this country. For Native Americans, it is genocide and complete erasure of all the tribes and indigenous existence that was here long before 1492.

Our off season also gives us a chance to imagine our roster if we moved a few things around, added some new moves and examined our playbook. It is what energizes us, conditions us, and hypes us up for June. We don’t know what the year will bring, but we plan to be read, in good form, ready to run through the tape for a literary victory.

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