Well-Read Black Girl founder Glory Edim is determined to give kids exposure to 'black history and black excellence'

After her speech at the 2020 MAKERS Conference in Los Angeles, CA last week, writer and mama-to-be Glory Edim spoke with Yahoo Lifestyle about the Well-Read Black Girl book club she’s created and the impact she hopes to make.

Brooklyn-native Edim founded Well-Read Black Girl, a book club turned online community, in 2016. Edim began it as a vital space for both black women readers and writers to connect and grow in conversation, but she had big dreams of expanding. In 2017, after sharing an illuminating cab ride with novelist Tayari Jones, Edim decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to host a literary festival.

Initially, she hoped to raise $15,000, but soon far surpassed that, reaching close to $40,000. The literary festival — with Naomi Jackson as a keynote speaker and Marita Golden leading a writing workshop — sold out, drawing 600 people.

Since then Edim’s mission has continued to grow — as has her own following. Thus far, she has been featured in Vanity Fair, published a book called Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves and has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work.

Well-Read Black Girl now boasts almost 300,000 followers on Instagram and continues to host festivals annually. As she continues to conquer new platforms, such as the MAKERS conference, Yahoo Lifestyle speaks with Edim about the importance of representation and community.

MAKERS: This was the first time that I heard of Well-Read Black Girl and everything you’ve put together and I was just so blown away. For you to have cultivated a space where black literature is centered and given the respect that it deserves is revolutionary. Staying right on topic, what were your thoughts on the recent Oscar win for Hair Love?

Glory Edim: Well, first of all, I absolutely love Matthew Cherry and the work that he's done to advocate on behalf of black women and the culture of black hair. Before Hair Love was a film it was also a book and he worked with the illustrator, Vashti, who is an incredible black woman illustrator. So I think it's important for us to have platforms and creative projects that highlight and represent us — whether that's a film, a book, a painting, whatever it is, it's all about representation. 

When you see yourself as a child, in a cartoon or in a children's book, it makes a world of difference because you start to gain self-acceptance and you start to see that there are more possibilities in the world. It's not so black and white. I love Hair Love. I've been like shouting from the rooftops, like “go Matthew!” He knows we're all on the same team, whatever you're doing, whether it's a book or a film, we're all the same team and we're like, you know, Issa Rae, “I'm rooting for everybody Black.” So I was really happy. I loved that project. 

Representation truly is everything and it really is an impactful film — especially for parents. Speaking of parents, congrats on being pregnant with your first child! I’m wondering how do you feel parenting has transformed your message or do you feel like your movement now carries a new kind of importance?

GE: Oh yeah, 100 percent. The moment I found out I was pregnant, I added a family day to the festivals, so we have our day for adults, but then we did a special day just dedicated to kids from three to 16-years-old. We had all these children's authors come out, we had a drum circle and I immediately started thinking more of education. 

As an adult, we get to be more analytical and we're dealing with books in a different way — we're doing it for enjoyment and/or we're doing it for political reasons. But when you're a child, you're really trying to see yourself, figure out who you are and it's really about shaping your identity, so I do feel more sensitive now that I'm entering this new phase of motherhood. I want to make sure my son has all the best examples. I'm wanting to make sure that, unlike me, who read Malcolm X entering college, I want to put that book in his hand when he's like eight years old — as in the moment he can read that.

I don't want there to be any gaps in his education where he doesn't see a clear representation of himself. I'm really excited and so me and my partner, we've definitely been thinking about our parenting philosophy, the books we're going to read to him. He's already reading to my stomach and hoping he's taking it all in. It definitely has changed how I'm building my organization and making sure that young girls and boys are being catered to and they have enough books and they have enough examples of black history and black excellence. Motherhood definitely is something that just reshaped my mindset on the organization and the legacy I want to build. 

Founder of Well-Read Black Girl Glory Edim speaks onstage during The 2020 MAKERS Conference. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for MAKERS)

For sure. Books have a way of shaping you, especially as a child. I also saw you at a roundtable discussion with some of my favorite authors. What has it been like working with literary legends like Jacqueline Woodson?

GE: Jacqueline is a very close friend. I love her. You know Brooklyn is, it's a small community so, when it comes to the black writers and when you go to literary events, everyone kind of merges together. I met her at a conference and I told her about the project and she was super, super supportive. She was like, “all right, but what do you need? Let's talk about it. If you're hosting a book club, I'll come through. Festival? I'll come.” So she's come to every festival. She went from someone I really admired to a true friend. I can say the same thing about Tayari Jones and Sarah Broom. Like, I really loved them and now they're going to be “titis” to my son. I’m not rich by any means, but the value is in the relationships. When I want to connect or need advice and I'm just like, “yo, I don't know what to do.” I feel comfortable calling Jackie, like “can you help me with this? Like what do you think about this idea?” And that's worth so much more than you know. I feel so grateful.

I think that within the community, we all mutually understand the worth of the work that we do without it being monetary. That support from people we look up to is powerful. With that said, where do you hope to see your organization in the long run?

GE: I would really love it to be part of a cultural institution. If I could go back to my alma mater and have Well-Read Black Girl be part of Howard University, work with their archives and be part of a school, I would love that. I want the festival to always be there, so even if I'm not there, every year someone else would have it carried on. There's the Miami book fair, which is a big organization. There's an LA book fair, why can't we have the Well-Read Black Girl festival that happens every year? In 2021 it will be five years, so I have my five-year plans and my 10-year plans, but I'm trying to have it live beyond me and be in an institution. 

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