Tag Archives: literature

Go on Girl! (Part Two): Ideas for Your Book Club

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Go On Girl! Book Club’s 2011 Author of the Year, Daniel Black, author of Perfect Peace.

I’m an advocate of reading and travel to bring friends together. Go On Girl! Book Club (see previous post) does this in quite a spectacular way. GOG is one of the largest national, non-profit reading organizations dedicated to supporting authors of the African Diaspora. For the past 20 years they have hosted an author awards weekend in a different location each year, usually with 150 to 250 members and guests in attendance.  The chapters in the host city plan and execute a weekend full of activities that include a mixer for GOG members and authors, meetings of the national board and executive committee and membership breakfasts. They also have panel discussions, book signings and tours of the host city.

Says GOG President Lynda Johnson, “Our members love interacting with the authors, having serious one-on-one discussions with them and being treated to sneak peeks of their upcoming novels.” It sounds like the authors enjoy it, too. Says Johnson, “Bebe Moore Campbell once said to us that she really appreciated her readers because the craft of writing is a solitary art and when you hear from people who’ve read your work you know you are appreciated.”

The high point of the weekend is the awards ceremony in which the group honors its Author of the Year, New Author of the Year, Life Achievement Awardees, and scholarship winners. Says Johnson, “Walter Mosley, Terry McMillan, Diane McKinney Whetstone, Sonia Sanchez, J. California Cooper, Daniel Black, Isabel Wilkerson, Stephen Carter, and Bebe Moore Campbell are among the literary luminaries that have attended our event to accept their awards. Our members look forward to this annual event so they can bond over books, meet their favorite authors and rekindle the cross-country friendships they’ve forged with each other. We stay connected throughout the year with a membership newsletter, chapter meetings and other gatherings.”

But if events of such magnitude aren’t for your group, GOG has some ideas to spice up your book club’s interaction and activities. For example, members get together to support each other for charity functions such as donating books to libraries and schools, reading to shut-ins and even donating books to women behind bars. Says Johnson, “Our members do so much around literature such as attending and hosting book signings, inviting authors to our book discussions and bringing the books to life such as preparing meals around the foods discussed in a book. For instance, we baked the cookies from the novel Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice and listened to the music of singer Nina Simone, who is prominently featured in the story. We also visit the locations in which the books take place. Our chapters in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia areas visited Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, Monticello, when we read the historical novel, Sally Hemmings by Barbara Chase-Riboud.”

If your book club is looking for great African-American writers, check out the extensive list of the books GOGs have read over the past 21 years. Says Johnson, “Through the course of our book club’s existence we have discovered some amazing African-American writers and many writers who are struggling to get their work out there. What we as an organization would love to see is writers of color getting recognition on the very large literary landscape.”

Go On Girl! Book Club will host its 21st Annual Author Awards celebration from Friday, 2013-logo-header[1]May 31st to Sunday, June 2nd at the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel. The awards dinner on Saturday, June 1st will feature our 2012 winning authors, Marlon James, Author of the Year for The Book of Night Women and Karen Simpson, New Author of the Year for Act of Grace. Authors who have attended past awards dinners include, Walter Mosley, Terry McMillan, Diane McKinney Whetstone, Lawrence Hill, Jewell Parker Rhodes and many others. For more information and to purchase tickets to the awards dinner visit www.GoOnGirl.org/events.

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Go on Girl! This is one inspiring book club. Part One.

While some book groups struggle to meet regularly or to get everyone to read the book goongirlbookclubbefore 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.

Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest in New Orleans

Stella!

I just got back from a few days in New Orleans where I caught a portion of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival.  The fest features famous writers, actors and authors (this year including Piper Laurie, Amanda Plummer, and playwright John Guare)  performing and discussing their work and that of Tennessee Williams.  Touring around the city, I was amazed to see New Orleans’s huge comeback after Katrina.  I thought I would see areas that still looked demolished, but with a few exceptions the city is back in shape and New Orleans tourism has hit the level it was before 9/11.  Beyond that, the city is as crazy as ever, with an above-average level of drinking.  As an example of “only in New Orleans” behavior, I offer the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, which caps off the Tennessee Williams Festival.  Click on the following link and watch the video that appears at the end of the page.  It’s just great. www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2012/03/photos_and_video_stella_and_st.html

A Soothing Visit to Birchbark Books: Louise Erdrich Shared Her Book Suggestions–and I Took Them

Yesterday was a blustery day in Minnesota that would surprise even Winnie the Pooh.  I blew into the one of the best places in Minneapolis to be on a stormy day, Birchbark Books .  It’s a cozy independent shop with warm wood, a dog to greet you, and an unusual array of books that might not come to your attention in a big chain bookstore. The shop reflects the literary, environmental and Native American cultural interests of its owner, National Book Award-finalist, Louise Erdrich.

In contrast to the agitating wind outside, soothing Native American music played inside as I strolled through the books, Native American quillwork, basketry and jewelry.  Louise attaches hand-written notes to books she suggests which feels like she has left personal notes just for you. That sales technique certainly worked on me; I picked up a signed copy of Louise’s book The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, along with two books I would never have chosen, Risking Everything-110 Poems of Love and Revelation edited by Roger Housden, and just in time for Halloween, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, about a vampire and a journey through the capitals of Eastern Europe.

The store creates an atmosphere that I would have loved as a child, with a tiny loft and a “hobbit hole” to play in, the kind of place that might stir up a child’s imagination and make even a reluctant reader want to big up a book or have a story read to him. Another of my favorite features of the store:  a confessional that was formerly a sound booth in a bar as well as a confessional. As the shop’s Web site says, “One side is dedicated to Cleanliness, the other to Godliness. Louise is currently collaging the interior with images of her sins.  The confessional is now a forgiveness booth, there for the dispensation of random absolution.”

This would be an excellent spot for a book club outing, perhaps with lunch or dinner at the Kenwood Café next door and a chance to hang out and chat with the store’s booksellers. They also organize a BYOB Book and Dinner Club.

Those who can’t make it to Minneapolis should take a bit of inspiration—okay, steal the idea—and organize your own Book and Dinner event.  What a great way to share meaningful conversation and meet new friends.