In conversation with Essence, literary influencer Cree Myles explained how she uses reading as an act of rebellion, and how she monetized her love for books and transformed it into a fruitful career. On reading, Myles said, “It’s an act of resistance. It’s an act that can change things. The revolution always starts with you internally. And the way to jumpstart any change you want to see is to engage your imagination in these stories.”
BookTok and Bookstagram have been predominantly white spaces where influencers have carefully curated an aesthetic image of who readers are. Oftentimes, the most well-known influencers in the book community aren’t always compelled to read the works from authors of color and gain perspectives that differ from their own. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except that it creates an oversaturated space of readers who consume only a specific type of book. As someone who’s recently created an Instagram dedicated to reading, I’ve witnessed this lack of diversity first-hand––so I find myself drawn to small pockets within the expansive book community where readers are amplifying a broad range of voices outside of the most prevalent.
“Whenever there’s an argument about there not being an audience for a book…we are so clearly here and visible,” said Myles. “You’re not talking about an elusive audience. You can type in Black Bookstagram and see all of us. I think that has helped to lend some receipts to the work that matters and to the readership. I think it’s forcing publishing houses to be more creative.”
Because of the internet, we live in an advantageous time where we can simply fill in the gaps by creating our own communities if there is a need or desire for them. Myles established her own literary club, Black Like We Never Left, in order to uplift and elevate Black authors. Featuring authors such as Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Robert Jones Jr., bell hooks, and Mateo Akasipour, the club is open to the public and presents one book per month for discussion.
This idea is what led to Myles’ partnership with Penguin Randomhouse for their new initiative All Ways Black.
Speaking with Belletrist book club co-founder Karah Preiss, Myles said, “I had the idea for the book club and I told [Karah] about it. She said who would you want to do first? Of course Toni Morrison. I’m always trying to get people who would not read Toni Morrison to read Toni Morrison. [I said] if we have this read-a-thon, we give them a super digestible book: Sula. For the people who have already done that and want to get into the nitty gritty, read Beloved and then Song of Solomon.”
“[Karah] said if we do that, then we should talk to the publisher which is Penguin Randomhouse. They were totally on board. Then a few months later, they said we’re starting this platform All Ways Black, would you be interested in curating it? I was like, “…What?! Yes, that’s my dream to read all day.” It’s been absolutely wonderful.”
With her new dream job, Myles serves as the curator on the books featured monthly, including the ones in the “I Can’t Believe This Lit” section. Cognizant of the fact that her experience as a Black woman is only one perspective of many, Myles seeks to highlight the all the literature that Penguin Randomhouse is driving out in order to help everyone feel seen.
Conversations between Myles and the authors are also available to watch via the All Ways Black platform. So far, she’s interviewed Black Buck author Mateo Askaripour and Kai Harris, author of What the Fireflies Knew.
Myles knew that one day, she’d be getting paid to read books. Speaking it into existence is the key to manifestation, and her story serves as inspiration and proof of how powerful it is when we set our intention toward a goal, no matter how implausible it may seem.
“Name what you want,” she encouraged. “I’m telling you, back in 2014, I was like ‘I’m going to get paid to read.’ I don’t know where or when or how but this is what I’m going to do. It looked completely impossible because what I’m doing did not exist a year and a half ago. Naming it so God and the universe know that y’all are in lock step is really the first step.”