Book Clubs Become Touchstone for Black Women
David Holmstrom, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Callie Crossley describes the monthly gatherings as if she were reviewing a crackling good novel: always "a rich experience ... sometimes amazing ... with fabulous discussions."
Ms. Crossley is an enthusiastic member of the Literary Sisters, a group of 14 black women who come together once a month in a living room in Boston to discuss books by black authors.
Launched 10 years ago, the Literary Sisters predates the current spotlight being thrown on the rising popularity of book reading groups throughout United States. Ethnic or not, more groups are gathering these days on the Internet, in homes, bookstores, community buildings and campuses across the US. Participants say in an age of cold technology and hot businesses, they want intellectual warmth and old-fashioned social interaction. Notably visible among the many black women's groups is Go On Girl, a group in New York that started in l991 and now sends out a national newsletter to members and publishers. TV's Oprah Winfrey, with her eagerly awaited book selections and author interviews, has helped bring more visibility to book discussions. But many black women's groups have been around for years. Their discussions offer black women an understanding of the dynamics of race relations, insights into black history, and plenty of personal support and friendship. And they eat well too. "That is a major requirement of membership," laughs Crossley. She is a producer for ABC's 20/20 television show and often plans her schedule to not miss a gathering of the Sisters. "Sometimes our discussions go way on through the meal," she says of the group that meets the first Sunday of every month from 3 to 6 p.m. An elaborate meal is usually prepared by the hostess. For black women in particular, the book groups can provide a separate and needed touchstone. It is a chance to discuss ideas, but the value of being together goes deeper. "Most of us lead very integrated existences," says Karen Grigsby Gates, a member of Babes on Books in Los Angeles. "We were feeling that we hadn't been able to keep in touch in a meaningful way with black girlfriends because we were ethnically isolated in the workplace," she says. "So this was a way to ... have some sistership." Many of the women in the Los Angeles group have front-line experiences with integration and discrimination. "Some of us have been the first and only black people to do this or that, or get bused somewhere,"says Ms. Grisby Gates, who writes editorials for the Los Angeles Times and is a commentator on National Public Radio. "We're used to it," she says, "but in some ways a little tired of it because you always end up being a representative of the Negroes. …