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I was in a teenager when I started realizing the importance of black writers. I loved reading when I was younger, but I didn’t have access to a lot of fictional books that focused on characters who looked like me. All of that changed, of course, when I got my hands on books like Sister Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever and Liar’s Game by Eric Jerome Dickey. When I discovered that there are black writers out there writing contemporary stories that appeal to my interests, I knew I wanted to read them all.
Although the hunt for all the black books I could find became an obsession at some point, finding those books was a challenge for me. The writers I was looking for weren’t always on my local grocery shelves. If I was lucky, I might see some in the library. Even though there were some good finds in the library, it wasn’t consistent. At the time, bookstores had a small section dedicated to black writers. If I was lucky, there were quite a few black writers to choose from. Most of the time, however, it would just be a standalone display with maybe half a dozen books. I went straight to the bookstores or into the corners, hoping to see the “African American” sign. Looking back now, I decolonized my bookshelves before they had a name.
When I discovered local Black bookstores, my options opened up, but my heart was always broken because the bookstores that Black owned that I had access to at the time were closing. At the time, there were many non-fiction and mainstream books in the local Black bookstores. It was better than the libraries and mainstream bookstores for choices. While some of the Black bookstores I visited weren’t big stores or didn’t have books on the wall, it was this experience that made me hunt for more literary treasures again.
Of course there were times when I was sad. It was frustrating to think of all the hours I spent in a bookstore hoping to find black literature. But that changed for me when I discovered the Black Expression Book Club. I had the same joy for the Black Expressions Book Club as for the music club memberships, which came with ten CDs or cassettes for 99 ¢. I thought I won the lottery and in many ways I did it.
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One day I received a catalog in the mail. I don’t know where they got my address from or what I signed up for to get on the list, but it was the day that changed my life. It was like a zine catalog of about ten pages. Each page had a description of a book by a black author as well as the book cover. I remember being so excited. The book club’s services were also perfect. They offered discounted books for upcoming books and they offered free books. You can also choose a title. If you haven’t selected a title, the editors’ favorites will be sent to you. For me it was a win-win situation. I got everything I wanted without searching endlessly in a library or bookstore.
The Black Expressions Book Club helped me build my perfect library. I was able to spot Octavia E. Butler, Mary B. Morrison, Walter Mosley, E. Lynn Harris, and other black writers who write both fiction and non-fiction. Having access to black writers who have also written mystery, science fiction, and thriller has broadened my imagination. I no longer had to trick my brain into blacking out characters. The Black Expressions Book Club helped me cement the concept of standard black centering in my escapism.
The Black Expressions Book Club finally closed its doors towards the end of 2013. Her Facebook page shows that her last post was in 2014. Although the site has been inactive for nearly a decade, it still has over a quarter following. Million Facebook users.
Even in the era of BookTube, Bookstagram, BookTok, and book subscriptions, there is still room for Black Expressions if they want to return. They could come back on the market today and still be popular. In any case, I am eternally grateful to Black Expressions. My mail-in book club lived in the future and I will forever cherish the way it radicalized my imagination and challenged me to take a seat without an apology. It would be very remiss on my part not to highlight the first black book subscription box / book club that paved the way for black writers and black readers alike.