How Black Women Use Books for Labor and Leisure: Notes from the Essence Book Project (Virtual Lecture)

Wednesday, October 12, 2022 - 6:00pm
In 1994, Essence—a magazine that believes “Black women come first”—celebrated its 25th anniversary by launching a monthly bestsellers’ book list to support the boon in book clubs, fairs, and stores ushered in by Oprah Winfrey’s book club and Terry McMillan’s books-to-box office success. The list was compiled from sales data supplied by Black owned bookstores in the United States and Canada and was meant to showcase the reading priorities of Black communities. Though Essence ceased publishing the list in 2010, the list has taken on a second life through my digital humanities work, the Essence Book Project—a computational archive of every book ranked on the list. The Essence Book Project leverages digital and social media to historicize the trove of popular books that entertained and educated Black communities as we entered a new millennium. Join Dr. Saffold and the Herman Grima + Gallier Historic Houses for this online, virtual lecture to learn how the Essence Book Project offers a literary history of Black popular books and Black women’s reading communities at the turn of the twenty-first century. Drawing from the bestsellers’ list data alongside conversations with the most ranked author on the list Sister Souljah; best friends turned co-authors Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant; and matriarch of womanism Alice Walker, the Essence Book Project allows us to better comprehend how Black women intentionally created space for themselves in the publishing industry as well as the ways Black women creatively used books for labor and leisure. Dr. Jacinta R. Saffold is the endowed chair in Africana Studies at the University of New Orleans and a digital archivist. She researches 20th and 21st century African American literature, Hip Hop Studies, and the Digital Humanities. Currently, she is working on her first manuscript, Books & Beats: The Cultural Kinship of Street Lit and Hip Hop and the Essence Book Project, a computational collection of popular African American Literature. This event is made possible by funding from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Funding for 2021 Rebirth grants has been administered by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH) and provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and the NEH Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan (SHARP) initiative. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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