While some book groups struggle to meet regularly or to get everyone to read the book before they meet, others take the reading group concept to a whole new level.
In the course of doing research for my upcoming book, Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Groups, and Girls on Getaways, I was looking for book clubs that travel and do other interesting things together– beyond the typical meeting that includes book discussion, wine, and dessert, not necessarily in that order. One of the most impressive groups I came across was the Go On Girl! Book Club. They’re headquartered in New York but GOG has become a national organization with 30 chapters in the following 13 states.
Their mission: to encourage the literary pursuits of people of African descent. The group started with Lynda Johnson, Monique Greenwood, and Tracy Mitchell who all worked at Fairchild Publications as editors. Says Johnson, “Tracy and I were avid readers. She loved coming of age stories and I loved any and everything surrounding the Harlem Renaissance writers. Tracy and I were both reading the novel No Easy Place to Be by Steven Corbin and would discuss it over lunch. Monique heard our intense conversations and originally thought we were discussing real people. We told her she had to read the book; she did and joined our conversations. Based on our discussions Tracy suggested we get a small group of friends together and form a book club. It was during that first meeting that the foundation for GOG was set. Ironically, we had 12 women attend, all with different tastes in books.”
This formed Go On Girl! Book Club’s commitment to read 12 different genres a year, one for each month. They also decided to limit their group to 12 women to make for manageable book discussions. Eventually, various members of the group moved to other parts of the country and they established GOG chapters wherever they went, starting with Washington, D.C. and Chicago. They didn’t set out to form a national organization. “Our growth happened very organically,” says Johnson.
But they eventually became women on a mission. “We chose to read writers from the African diaspora to support those authors and experience stories about ourselves. The publishing industry didn’t realize that a large black readership existed until the publication of Terry McMillan’s books. We quickly discovered so many wonderful black writers who weren’t getting recognition or support. We wanted to let them know that we realize they exist and are reading and discussing their books. We hosted book signings and readings for some of those authors and then decided to recognize them with our annual author awards weekend. We just wanted a platform for African American writers. There were so many great writers out there who we felt were following the tradition of Toni Morrison, James Baldwin and a host of literary writers from the Harlem Renaissance but not getting the recognition they needed. We felt we could do that for them as a book club and discuss and enjoy some great stories at the same time.”
Ultimately, GOG became a national, non-profit reading organization. They give out scholarships to encourage writing of stories about the black experience. “We decided to give a scholarship to an aspiring writer studying literature/communications and an unpublished writer struggling to be read. And, if that’s not enough, for the last 20 years, the GOG chapters have come together in a different location each year, to connect with each other and to host author awards that have been attended by some of the luminaries of the literary world including Walter Mosely, Bebe Moore Campbell, Terry McMillan, and many others.
Impressed? Read more about the Go On Girl! book club in my next post.