BookBrowse interviews Sistas Are Reading is celebrating 25 years of discussing books and fundraising together. about all aspects of their book club.

Book Club Interview (see full list)

Sistas Are Reading is celebrating 25 years of discussing books and fundraising together.

Sistas Are Reading

Hi LaVosha, it’s so good to meet you! Please tell us how your group get started

In 1998, I had two roommates, and they had a friend who bought over the book Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant. After we had all read the book and passed it along to some of our other friends, we informally began discussing it one day. One of the friends put it out there that we should start a book club. I sent out a survey to some family and friends to find out if anyone would be interested and surprisingly it created a great response. Our first meeting was September 27, 1998. It has always been an honor to be the President of this wonderful group of intelligent, black women.

25 years, that’s quite something! How many are in your group and how do you pick books?

We currently have nine members ranging in age from 48 - 60 years old. Most of us live in close proximity to each other. Each December we randomly pick members’ names out of a bag for each reading month of the following year.

How many months is that?

Initially, we met every month except September and December, because every anniversary we do dinner or take a trip and in December we have a holiday get together. Then we began to take a break from discussions during the summer months, so now we get together seven months of the year to discuss books. 

So, the members names get picked, then what?

The chosen member for that particular month normally hosts the meeting in their home or at an agreed location. We also collect $5 a month in dues and that money is used for different things that may come up, such as our anniversary and holiday dinner gatherings. During the pandemic we met via Zoom but we went back to meeting in person in 2023.

The host also chooses the book for the month. We try to stay away from self-help books, but we are open to many genres, both fiction and nonfiction, including sci-fi, thrillers and suspense; and both male and female authors. 

When we first started out, we used to only read African American authors but several years ago we introduced a chip bag full of red or black chips. If the member pulls a red chip, they have the option to select an author of another ethnicity.

After so many years, I imagine it gets difficult to choose, but are there any books that particularly stand out? 

Book JacketMany books over the years have generated great conversations. Recently we had a particularly good discussion of Daniel Black’s Don’t Cry for Me; and we’ve had equally lively discussions of books like Book of Harlan by Bernice McFadden and an oldie but goodie, Child of God by Lolita Files. I would be remiss if I did not mention the book that pulled us together 25 years ago Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant. We also forged a love of all things Tananarive Due with books like My Soul to Keep, The Living Blood and The Between. Our group was featured in an article in the Star-Ledger newspaper in 2005 discussing one of her books, The Good House.

Tananarive Due has a new book out this October, The Reformatory, I imagine this will be on your reading list before long! Do you feel your book club choices are evolving over time? 

Absolutely. The evolution has occurred because I think the writing and authors have evolved as well over time. Books we would read early on felt so personal and I feel were written with more of the intention of keeping the reader engaged and wanting more. At times we would read books from the same author in consecutive months because their writing was so great, and we wanted more. For example, early on when we started out, Toni Morrison, Terry McMillan and E. Lynn Harris were definitely on our book list rotation on a continuous basis. Writing seems to have changed as we engage more digitally with electronics and videos and that is what evolution is all about. I know authors have to adjust as well keeping readers engaged and we as readers try to maintain our interest for reading a good book.

That’s an interesting observation. I know that I’ve changed as a reader over the years, and that trending topics come and go, but I hadn’t thought about writing styles themselves changing in response to new technology.

I know you’ve been involved in some amazing fundraising and charitable events. I’m sure readers would love to know more about this.

Over the years we’ve participated in and organized many fundraising events. One of our biggest events, that we started early on is our annual Mother’s Day Brunch where we have authors as our guest speakers. Speakers have included Tayari Jones, Donna Hill and Valerie Wilson-Wesley; and for our 20th anniversary we had a huge affair where we honored Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant, and gave out two book award scholarships during the event.

That’s amazing; and even more so now I read the full list of activities your group has been involved in, that you kindly shared with me!

How are the scholarships are awarded? 

Each new school year, we send out our scholarship award application packet to local high school guidance counselors so that they can share with young ladies who are qualifying high school seniors. We have given close to $10,000 in scholarship funds since we started this book scholarship project 15 years ago. We have given out a laptop and other school supplies for those who have won the scholarship and could not afford those items for school.

Are you doing anything special to celebrate your quarter century?

We celebrated with a girls’ trip to Phoenix, Arizona. Such a joyous time we had as we renewed our sisterhood while we bonded over the memories that we have created on this journey. While in Arizona, we visited Read Better Be Better, a literacy organization that connects young readers with young leaders to inspire the love of reading, and gave them a $200 donation to assist with their program. For this year’s scholarship giving, we also gave two $1,000 book scholarship awards to two high school graduating senior girls going onto higher education.

Wow! As you look back, are there any particularly special memories?

We wanted to make a difference in this world by lending ourselves to helping others and always trying to find ways to do that. One thing we will always remember that was both eye-opening and moving for us was when we took a literacy training class at the local library to learn how to teach others to read.

Another important cause that is dear to our hearts is the Prince Hall Community Festival that we have participated in each September for the past eight years. We set up a table and give out free books to all ages along with school supplies; it is very rewarding for us to be able to share the love of reading with the community and to see the children light up when they get books to take home with them.

It feels to me that giving back to others is as important to your group as the time you spend discussing together, and I find that very heartening.

You are right. When we started many years ago our main objective was to gather and read really great books and grow our sisterhood bond. As the years progressed, we have accomplished this and also found ways to make a positive impact on our community and make a difference in people’s lives through books and literacy. We are truly blessed to be able to do these amazing things but we know it would not be possible without our faith.

Are there any tips that you’d like to pass on to others?

Make sure the book club you want to start is made up of like-minded people that love to read and are serious about reading. Sometimes you have those that just want to socialize and be in the mix, which can be fun but at the same time you want to keep the focus on reading. The best feeling is having a great discussion about a great book you’ve read, and you need committed members for that purpose. Remember to have fun and enjoy each other while discussing a good book!

Thank you LaVosha, I'm sure I speak for us all in wishing you and your group a very happy anniversary, and many more years of friendship, good conversation and volunteering!

Interview by Davina Morgan-Witts

© September 2023.

If you feel that your book group has something unique to offer, and you would like to tell others about it, please contact us with brief details, and maybe we can feature you in the future.

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