Eleven-year-old Marley was bothered by the fact that she couldn’t see herself reflected in the books she was reading at school. After noticing that stories with characters that looked like her weren’t being assigned, she created a book drive specifically aimed at collecting books for girls like her, called #1000BlackGirlBooks.
When I was her age, I swallowed books the way most kids ate ice cream. I read everything I could get my hands on: fairy tales, history books, mythology stories, & classics from Narnia & Little Women, to Shakespeare plays & Moby Dick. I loved the experiences of breathing through those characters & walking in their worlds. The escapist thrill of delving into a life besides my own was insanely addictive.
But like Marley, I’d noticed that my experiences, my possibilities, & characters that looked like me, seemed to be non-existent. I was an interracial girl, half-black & half-white, which, it was explained to me, meant I was a ‘minority’. I had to spend my life checking the box marked, ‘other’. I’d charged through the Must-Read book lists of librarians & teachers & those fabulous few who deemed what was & was not important, only to find that minorities weren’t anywhere on the list.
I took that to mean that I wasn’t important.
This past Thanksgiving, at my parent’s house, I found a ripped up folder I had crammed all of my high school essays into. Just skimming the first, a ‘Summer Reading’ report broke my heart wide open. I’d written about how I had picked up ‘I Know Why The Cage Bird Sings’ at the local library & found, instead of an escape, my first ever ‘reflection’.
For the first time in my life, I was reading words from the heart, mind & spirit of a girl who didn’t have white skin. A smart, sensitive girl, who wanted to do things she hadn’t seen other people who looked like her accomplish.
That story, just by existing, told me I was important.
I saw how, in my brimming-with-excitement-Summer-Reading essay, that book had cracked open my curiosity. I reported how I had spent the rest of the summer on a search for “minority” books & joyfully discovered how large and encompassing the group label actually was.
In that tattered folder I also discovered a letter to my English teacher, asking if I could do a private study, overseen by him, of books that were outside of the syllabus. Most of the arguments I put forth weren’t particularly sound, seeing as how I hadn’t been able to find a politically correct way of talking about my needs. Somehow, “I’m not in these books you’re giving us”, didn’t seem to be enough back then. I’m grateful that is not the case today.
I’m also proud to say that the list of books my teenaged self had proposed knocked me off my adult chair:
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
- The Handmaiden’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- Kindred by Octavia Butler
Clearly I was asking - begging - to be shown something that the syllabus approved Charles Dickens, Wilson Rawls, John Knowles & many other fantastic, important writers weren’t capable of gifting me with: a glimpse of my own reflection. I wanted to know what being ‘other’ meant to those who had come before me. I was desperate to get a map from those who had navigated this path. The teacher said no, but thankfully, I read the list on my own. It was so great that I began wanting to also see versions of myself in futuristic sci-fi thrill rides, in the mythological adventures of the past, as the fascinating girl-next-door, & as the heroine who saves the world.
I didn’t start a book drive when I was eleven & I didn’t have access to a diverse shelf at my school or local library, but I did start inventing the stories I wanted to read.
“If there's a book that you want to read,
but it hasn't been written yet,
then you must write it.”
My book TRUST isn’t a black or a white book, probably because I’m not ‘just’ either one of those things. It does happen to be a mythological, urban fantasy thrill ride with a female protagonist whose skin isn’t white, probably because mine isn’t. It was lovingly created with the intention that all girls & boys (both young & young at heart) might see themselves reflected in its multicultural cast of vastly diverse characters. It’s the book I wanted to read, that didn’t exist yet. It’s all of my life experiences woven into metaphor & packaged into an offering that, against all publishing world odds, I hope that girls like myself & Marley will find. TRUST is a love letter to everyone who ever felt ‘other’.
I’m filled with an exquisite feeling of curiosity, wondering what delicious tales will come from the minds of the eleven-year-old girls who have easy access to the books from Marley’s book drive.
Marley Dias is my hero because she is asking for what she and so many others deserve. I will be sending her foundation a copy of my book TRUST tomorrow. It is a story written by a half-black girl that explores the idea of trusting your inner voice, as it can prove to be the most truthful & powerful reflection of self.
Thank you Marley, for being so extraordinary.
For more information about #1000BlackGirlBooks go to:
If you’ve got a book you’d like to donate you can send it to:
1000 Black Girl Books
59 Main Street, suite 322
West Orange, NJ 07052