If you’re into sports, you probably enjoy discussing yesterday’s game with your friends, and if you’re into fashion, you probably enjoying talking about fashion hits and misses. The same is true for almost any passion, and it’s a custom that holds true for book lovers. All across the country, there are groups of people meeting to discuss their latest read.
African-American book clubs potentially date back to the emancipation of slaves. Once we were free to read, why not share? That was the case with the 123-year-old Pierian Club of Kansas City, KS. The African-American women of social standing started the “literacy” club to get together and study.
The members were the wives of prominent men in the community and because they did not have college educations, the club offered them an opportunity to get together and study.
“The word ‘respectability’ got tossed around quite a bit back then,” said Frances Robinson of Olathe. Robinson’s grandmother Mamie Bradley was a charter member of the club. Her mother Gladys Bradley was also a member and so are she and her sister Harriet Hobbs.
Both book clubs – and women — have come a long way since the founding of the Pierian Club. Today, the tradition of getting together to discuss what’s within the pages of books is more popular than ever before. Book clubs are no longer the purview of women only, there are all male book clubs, clubs with both men and women members and even children’s book clubs. While the clubs are unique as their members, each group finds a way to make their club work.
Pat Frye, of Women of Color Book Club, Johnson County KS encourages people who are interested in starting a club to keep it simple.
“Even if they start with one person reading the book with them and then having a dialogue, that’s basically how it gets started and then invite other people into your conversation. That’s how we got started.” she said.
Women of Color Book Club, celebrating its 25th Anniversary, has grown from five or six regular readers to a roster that now includes 50 women. The group meets every 3rd Sunday during the months of September-May, and then takes a break during the summer.
Frye said that the group has served as a bridge for women who move into the Johnson/Jackson County area and have wanted to connect with other avid readers of color.
The African American Writers Book Discussion Group is another 25-year-old club. They meet the every third Thursday at the Topeka, Shawnee County Public Library. On the clubs website you can find a list of the books the club has read during the past few years, as well as upcoming selections. Its November book selection is “God Bless the Child” written by Nobel-prize winning author Toni Morrison.
This club has both male and female members. Vincent Omni, is the club’s long-standing discussion leader. He’s done the heavy lifting of keeping this group together, but has announced he’s leaving the group to focus on his continued education. If someone doesn’t step in, a 25 year legacy may fold.
Mocha Queens Read Book Club of Kansas City KS is thriving because its founder Kimberly Chappell decided organization was the key to maintaining a positive club environment. She had experienced the opposite in other book clubs; conversation often drifted to gossip and the women weren’t discussing the books. So she set out to make Mocha Queens’ purpose known from the start.
Mocha Queens is a non-profit organization with a nine-member executive board. The club has a detailed website. Interested readers are encouraged to go online to review bylaws, membership requirements that include a small monthly fee and answer questions before submitting a membership request. All members are social media users and connect thru Twitter, Instagram as well as Facebook.
They also participate in a community service project. During their most recent project, they helped feed over 500 homeless people.
“It’s very important that the agenda for us as Black Women is to get along, and be a true sisterhood and form true friendships,” Chappell said.
Mocha Queens, founded in July 2014, has approximately 25 active members and Chappell said she hopes to set up chapters in other cities.
The Real Book Club of KC, a smaller and newer club, used meet.com social networking website to source members. Its founder Yalonda Rigby started using the website three years ago after she moved from South Carolina and wanted to meet avid readers in Greater KC region.
“The book club has helped me meet more people, understand their reading likes and dislikes,” said Rigby. “I’ve read many more books than I normally would read by being in the Book Club.”
The group has six members who meet monthly to discuss literature at Panera Bread on The Kansas City Plaza. The readers mostly focus on African-American fiction. Rigby said that her biggest challenge has been to get readers to attend meetings. Rigby’s goal is to grow the clubs membership to 12 within the next year.
The Royale Boy Book Club started in fall 2012. Yes, it’s a book club for Black Boys ages 5-12, and it was started by child author Madden Tanner, age 8. The club is named after Tanner’s book “Royale Boy Blue Struggles with His Etiquette.”
Tanner’s mother would regularly take him to the Kansas City MO’s downtown library, and Tanner commented “more boys were needed” to read books together. So his mother helped him start the Book Club for boys his age.
Recently, Royale Boy partnered with Kansas City, MO Mayor Sly James’ Turn The Page KC Initiative, to get the reading proficiency at grade level or above for all third graders. As part of that partnership, the club now meets the second Saturday of each month at the Turn the Page KC Building on UMKC’s campus. At their meetings, the children also work on arts and crafts and other Science Technology Engineering Math related activities.