Young Activist Launches Book Service to Share (Often Hidden) Stories of the Global Black Experience

Zellie Imani (Courtesy Zellie Imani)

Educator and community organizer Zellie Imani, along with co-creator Derick Brewer, is bringing tales from the Black diaspora right to your doorstep courtesy of his subscription book service Noir Reads, which went public Monday, Jan. 9 before quickly selling out.

As the title implies, books by Black authors will be sent to subscribers on a monthly basis in groups of two or three. Each box is based on a certain theme and customers can pay $35 for one month of books or $100 for three months’ worth. When the first box arrives in February, it will contain books fitting the theme “From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation.” One shares the name of the theme and is by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, while the other is “Freedom Is A Constant Struggle” by Angela Davis. Forthcoming boxes will include works by Assata Shakur and Cornel West.

This box sold out in one week. Subscriptions for the March box will re-open in February.

“We have future themes that are going to be centered on the Haitian experience or the South African experience or just talking about first-generation immigrants in America,” Imani told Atlanta Black Star. “A whole bunch of different racial topics we want to explore.”

The service isn’t just about books for individual reading, though. There also is a reading guide and online forum for those interested in exploring the African diaspora.

Books to be included in Noir Reads box (Courtesy Zellie Imani)

“I think one of the things that a lot of us wish we had was a local book club,” the 32-year-old said. “But a lot of us, sometimes, cannot find people who enjoy the same topics we do and the Internet is a perfect medium for people to dialogue about and have a discourse with each other.

“We felt that having that component — being able to dive into these books together — really creates [a] community with each other.”

One of Noir Reads’ missions is to be able to provide a distinct selection of books representing a variety of authors from the African diaspora.

“We’re always centering on the African-American experience but highlighting other experiences to show a range and a depth of Blackness,” Imani said.

When asked if the subscription box would involve only classic writers like James Baldwin, Imani said it would not be limited to American authors but would include those located “wherever Black people reside in this world.”

Noir Reads subscription box (Courtesy Zellie Imani)

Independent writers interested in having their works offered in the service can send an email for review to the website. From there, Noir Reads will see which subscription box the book will be able to be placed in according to the chosen theme.

“The quality obviously will be a major factor, but also how well it fits into the particular themes we have lined up,” Imani said.

Imani, co-founder of a Black student organization committed to anti-racism and changing college education called the Black Liberation Collective, said the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of ongoing police brutality cases shows why Noir Reads is so important from a global perspective.

“We have now also seen the importance of centering Blackness here in America to also connecting to the diaspora worldwide,” Imani said. “And realizing our oppression is linked to their oppression as well and that anti-Blackness is global.”

Imani noted that Noir Reads does not offer children’s books, however, there are other options. For parents who want to get their children involved in immersing themselves in the culture of the diaspora, he recommended the “Just Like Me Box,” which includes three or four Black children’s books.

Imani said he has received an “amazing” response since the launch of Noir Reads.

“There’s [sic] people from all around the world who have been reaching out who wanted to be subscribers,” he said. “We have people from as far as South Africa and Australia inquiring more about the subscription service.

“So everything so far has been really positive and it’s a lot of excitement being built around the project.”

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