January 11, 2010

Staff find 'womanship' in book club

African American Women's Book Club

A group of Emory employees is celebrating the fifth anniversary of their book club, dedicated to reading and discussing literature by or about African American women.

Meetings are often thematic. They’ve donned heels to discuss Tia McCollors’ “Last Woman Standing;” attended the movie screening of “Precious” based on Sapphire’s novel “Push;” compared and contrasted Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” to the film adaptation starring Halle Berry.

“It’s been so much fun,” says founder Linda Calloway, academic degree program coordinator for the department of women’s studies.

The members of the African American Women’s Book Club—all Emory staff—represent schools and units across campus and Emory’s hospitals. Despite full-time jobs and busy personal schedules, a shared interest in reading and word of mouth has grown the club from five to 22 members.

Toni Avery, academic department administrator for the department of religion, says the opportunity to read books written by or about African American women sparked her interest in joining the group five years ago. “So many of our mothers’ and foremothers’ stories have never been told, or in many instances lost forever,” note both Avery and Calloway.

The book lovers meet each month, often on campus. A volunteer is selected to lead each meeting. “Discussions are very lively,” says Calloway. “We may not always all like a book, but there is always something to discuss.”

While most of the books center around African American women, one month a year is dedicated to exploring other authors. Reading selections are planned six months in advance. Books are selected from member’s suggestions, which Calloway draws out of a hat at random.  “We want everybody to have a voice,” she says.

This month the group is reading “Actions Speak Louder” by Shandra Hill Smith. The Atlanta author and journalist has been invited to attend the January meeting as a special guest.

Emory professor Nathan McCall has also been a guest author, leading to an engaging discussion of his novel “Them.”  The group enjoyed being able to ask questions directly to the author, recalls Calloway, and it was an opportunity for McCall to get feedback directly from some of his readers.

The club sometimes embarks on outings or cultural events related to the books they’re reading. Or, like the high tea at the Ritz in their favorite hats, simply for socializing.

“We participate in creative activities to better grasp settings, themes and characters of the book,” says Avery.

For Calloway, the club is about more than books. Friendships and social networks have formed with colleagues across campus. “We truly enjoy the opportunity to get together and talk. It may or may not be about the book, but it’s all about ‘womanship.’”

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