Beatriz Kaye, Founder of BedStuy Book Club
Book clubs are the new type of clubs people are participating in these days. Naturally, art brings together a community of folks to discuss and share ideas—and Bedstuy Book Club is no different, but maybe a little. Founder Beatriz Kaye shares the importance of expanding title recommendations and monthly reads from writers of color and creating a space for folks to be honest and share real-life situations. Read about how she and the rest of the BedStuy community are changing the way we are viewing local book clubs.
Beatriz, why do you feel it is important to have diverse book clubs in a local community?
Brooklyn transplants (myself included) need to understand that it is our responsibility to learn about our neighborhood, its history, and the people affected by our presence. Book Club is always going to be about community first. Books merely give us a jumping off point to discuss issues we face in our lives and in our neighborhood.
Your shirt “Decolonize your bookshelf” says a lot. Can you tell us why you feel strongly about that?
First, I just wanna address that there are so many activists and organizers who are in the front-lines of protests and actions, who use the word “decolonize” to describe radical policy changes to reverse the work of colonization, imperialism, and so much more. I just wanna make sure that I highlight that because I realize that making such a heavy word like “decolonize” into a cute slogan can diminish the gravity of those movements.
Second, I wanna make sure I plug that the shirt is the genius creation of Food 4 Thot in collaboration with Green Box Shop. Food 4 Thot is an amazing queer brown podcast, and Green Box Shop is owned by the amazing Afro-Latinx, 19-year-old (!!!!) Kayla Robinson.
Finally, to me, personally, the work of decolonizing is essential to my own healing process. I suffer from severe anxiety and depression, and the need to read stories that mirrored my own was… not to be dramatic, but it was life-or-death for me. I’ve read a ton of books in the last few years that helped me understand how systemic oppression affects Women and Queer People of Color on a personal level. Knowing I’m not alone in unpacking all of that, it’s super powerful.
But the book club is more than just a “book club,” folks began opening up about their families and personal life, how did you first respond to that kind of interaction?
I welcome allllllllllllllla that! Holding space for people’s feelings honestly comes naturally to me, and I go into every meeting ready to absorb that type of energy. Womxn and Queer People of Color specifically don’t have a ton of safe spaces to share their stories. Once people find something they can relate to, either in the books we’re reading or the stories shared, they vocalize and share, and it’s really lovely.
Usually books are written after a historical moment, but do you think a book can inspire a movement? (So a reverse thinking/happening).
Books can certainly inspire a movement, but it’s different. Think of how slow a glacier moves versus how quickly a powerful wave changes things. (Just finished watching that Nat Geo series that Will Smith narrated, so forgive me for the potential cheesiness of this analogy lol).
Reading feeds a revolutionary mind, but it moves slowly and intentionally, but eventually there’ll be one moment of collision or abrasion that causes huge waves.
What has been the greatest lesson you have learned from literature?
Reading is an exercise in empathy.
You put in work to learn people’s stories, to learn how to properly relate to them, love them, cherish them. While reading, you genuinely enjoy the process of empathy rather than thinking it’s a chore on the way to push your own agenda.
Alright be vulnerable with us: what is a fear of yours?
I’m really afraid of being misinformed or uneducated! I feel really responsible to use this platform as a way to spread information or present new ways of thinking about pop culture, politics and activism, but over time, it does get really draining to keep pushing myself to be aware. Sometimes, I mentally just need to hit snooze and forget about the orange cheeto in office trying to rob us of our rights at every turn. I’m definitely still working on balance in that way. I’m afraid of burning out for the sake of being the most woke of all time. I want to be open and transparent that I’m learning with y’all.
What do you hope for Bedstuy Book Club in the coming years?
In the near future, I’m working on finding ways to raise funds so that I can give away as many free copies of monthly books as possible. I don’t ever want to exclude anyone who might be deterred by lack of funds or access.
In the distant future, a perfect world looks like this: None of the friends I’ve made through Book Club ever leave Bed Stuy. We all end up congregating regularly on each other’s stoops, sipping iced tea, lending each other books, and continuing to share our stories. A man walks down the sidewalk in our direction, not to catcall us, but to bring snacks from a nearby cafe, which he owns and operates with his beautiful Black/Brown family. The sun sets, signaling that it’s time for us to go home. Each of the ladies and femmes on that stoop walk home feeling safe, supported and loved. <3
Interviewed by Chary