Five Black Bookstagrammers Share Their Must-Reads

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By: Jessie Stratton

Sometimes, we just need a break. Everyone does. Whether you’re overworked and burnt out, going through personal drama, or simply need a refresh, you deserve your you-time. Self-care comes in a lot of forms, and escapism totally counts.

So why not escape to the one cozy corner of the Internet where artists and book nerds congregate together in unity, gushing over the latest debuts and most classic pieces of literature? Welcome to Bookstagram.

In addition to sharing your #TBR stack (translation: to be read) and what you’re #CurrentlyReading with that latté, Bookstagram sparks important conversation. Last year, hashtags like #ElevateMelanatedVoices, #BlackGirlsRead, and #DiversifyBookstagram blossomed, giving the rest of the bookish community a more equitable mindset in choosing where we purchase books, who we follow, and why we need diversity in books. It’s no surprise that Bookstagram is a largely white community, but here are five Black Bookstagrammers you should know about who are uplifting marginalized voices and paving the way for other BIPOC content creators.

Kat

On 29-year old Kat’s feed you’ll find diverse authors and titles—their beautiful jacket covers layered against her signature white bedsheets and ivy vines. Kat, who hails from New York, is an overly excitable reader with a deep love for craft, history, and culture. Her minimalist aesthetic is balanced by her desire to instigate thought-provoking conversations around books and publishing, especially with regard to diversity. Kat notes that typically marginalized voices are lovingly brought to the center of the conversation through Bookstagram, with #OwnVoices readers—that is, readers who share the same voice as the author or character involved, usually BIPOC—being prioritized by publishers. When not reading, you can find Kat dancing, writing, or hugging trees while hiking.

Kat’s must-read(s): The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, and Field Study by Chet’la Sebree

The Namesake Synopsis: Meet the Ganguli family, new arrivals from Calcutta, trying their best to become Americans even as they pine for home. The name they bestow on their firstborn, Gogol, betrays all the conflicts of honoring tradition in a new world—conflicts that will haunt Gogol on his own winding path through divided loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs.

Field Study Synopsis: Seeking to understand the fallout of her relationship with a white man, the poet Chet’la Sebree attempts a field study of herself. Scientifically, field studies are objective collections of raw data, devoid of emotion. But during the course of a stunning lyric poem, Sebree’s control over her own field study unravels as she attempts to understand the depth of her feelings in response to the data of her life. The result is a singular and provocative piece of writing, one that is formally inventive, playfully candid, and soul-piercingly sharp.

Nehrlisa Behrmann

Another New Yorker, Nehrlisa (@herstacks) differentiates herself from others on Bookstagram with her warm, earthy tones. Always highlighting debut and marginalized voices, she knows what’s trending and leans into the Bookstagram community, creating personalized posts that make you want to pull up a seat in the sunshine and submerge yourself in a thoughtful read. For Nehrlisa, her recent journey into Bookstagram was inspired by other Black content creators who paved the way for diverse voices in a largely white space. Since creating her account in February, she reads much more than she used to and believes there’s a book out there for everyone. When not helping her followers find representation in literature, you can find Nerhlisa brunching it up in the Big Apple.

Nerhlisa’s must-read: Caucasia by Danzy Senna

Synopsis: Birdie and Cole are the daughters of a black father and a white mother, intellectuals and activists in the Civil Rights Movement in 1970s Boston. The sisters are so close that they speak their own language, yet Birdie, with her light skin and straight hair, is often mistaken for white, while Cole is dark enough to fit in with the other kids at school. Despite their differences, Cole is Birdie’s confidant, her protector, the mirror by which she understands herself. Then their parents’ marriage collapses. One night Birdie watches her father and his new girlfriend drive away with Cole. Soon Birdie and her mother are on the road as well, drifting across the country in search of a new home. But for Birdie, home will always be Cole. Haunted by the loss of her sister, she sets out a desperate search for the family that left her behind.

Sol Kelly

 

 
 
 
 
 
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This queer Black woman from New Orleans, @thesolreader is always asking questions, seeking accountability, and changing the state of Bookstagram one review at a time. Sol is a free-spirited goddess who loves books, beaches, and bikinis; and her bright, bold style is amplified in her unique photos often taken in front of graffitied walls. Her most recent project is a poetry segment called Poets and Goddesses in which she celebrates the art and writers of poetry during IG Live segments. When next visiting her page, catch this fashionista bragging about NOLA and uplifting her best Bookstagram buds.

Sol’s must-read: All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

Synopsis: In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.

Sydney

Sydney (@bookswithsyd) is an LA native and Bookstagrammer who is unapologetically herself, and that sentiment reflects her content. She created her Bookstagram account during quarantine in hopes of creating genuine friendships with others who love books just as much as her. Sydney hopes that her account shows the community just how diverse and fun reading can be. Her light aesthetic, infused with a pink hue, can only be described as charming and inviting. Sydney prioritizes authors from different backgrounds, and even created a book club that supports BIPOC-only authors. Despite the major work still to be done, she feels that other Black content creators have formed significant allyship with non-BIPOC Bookstagrammers, a step in the right direction. When not reading, find Sydney writing and trying new foods!

Sydney’s must-read: Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney

Synopsis: Quinn keeps lists of everything—from the days she’s ugly cried, to “Things That I Would Never Admit Out Loud” and all the boys she’d like to kiss. Her lists keep her sane. By writing her fears on paper, she never has to face them in real life. That is, until her journal goes missing . . . Then an anonymous account posts one of her lists on Instagram for the whole school to see and blackmails her into facing seven of her greatest fears, or else her entire journal will go public. Quinn doesn’t know who to trust. Desperate, she teams up with Carter Bennett—the last known person to have her journal—in a race against time to track down the blackmailer.

Cayla

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Cayla (@bookitqueen) is a self-described introverted nerd who loves to read books by Black authors and relive the 90s in all its glory, which is the inspiration for her bright, colorful feed. Promoting diversity while helping her followers find their next read is important to Cayla who promotes identity tours that others host such as #BlackResilienceBookstaTour and #LatinxBookstagramTour. When not reading, find this plant mama tending to her 44 plant babies and flipping furniture pieces!

Cayla’s must-read: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Synopsis: Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust. Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

Now that you know all about Bookstagram, what’s stopping you from grabbing that new book you recently put on the shelf, pouring a glass of rosé, and curling up on the couch to enjoy a peaceful night in? Happy reading!

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