The ‘Well-Read Black Girl’ Festival Was Everything I Needed in 2017

by Serina Gousby

2017 was a year of experiences and life-changing moments that I will never forget. However, the moment that topped all moments was attending the inaugural Well-Read Black Girl Writer’s Conference and Festival in Brooklyn, New York. I needed to be around other writers and published authors, especially this year, because I nearly gave up on my journey.

Back in August, I had lost a lot of hope in becoming a successful writer. I had just started The Rina Collective, and I quickly overwhelmed myself of scheduling blog posts, I lost interest in some topics, and I did not meet up to the goals I set for myself. Additionally, I was doing temporary work that I had no interest in, and it was killing me every week. In simple terms, I lost sight of my future, who I was writing for, why I loved writing, and I nearly closed the door of opportunities, that was always open for me. Later that month, one of my sisters I attended a summer program with, sent me the Facebook event of the festival.

If you’re reading this right now, thank you for sending that to me.

By the time I purchased tickets, I still had a few weeks to plan for the day, but it was too short notice to ask anyone to join me. So, I decided to go alone. This wouldn’t be my first time going to New York on my own since I went to AFROPUNK earlier in the year. However, this was my first experience traveling to a small intimate event in a different state, so I was really excited to see writers and creators come together in an environment that was new to me.

The festival’s schedule.

According to Well-Read Black Girl’s website, it is a “Brooklyn-based book club and digital platform that celebrates the uniqueness of black literature and sisterhood.” It was founded by Glory Edim in 2015. I love following their social media accounts, especially on Instagram because they always post pictures of various black female writers and book recommendations. For those who are not from Brooklyn, they also have a Facebook group that you can join and they are hopefully, or already doing, live streams when they host author events and club meetings.

This year was the book club’s first-ever festival and writer’s conference, and there were many authors, filmmakers, artists, and creators in attendance such as Vashti Harrison, Tayari Jones, Bernice McFadden, Jacqueline Woodson, Numa Perrier, and many more. the day was scheduled with discussion panels throughout the day from 1 pm until about 7 pm. The writer’s conference happened in the morning, but only those who donated $150 and more to their Kickstarter campaign (which by the way met the target goal within weeks) earlier in the year got tickets for that portion of the day. The festival was located at the BRIC media arts center in Fort Greene, and as soon as I arrived around 12:30 PM, I noticed a huge crowd of black women. It was just beautiful and magical to see. I was given a festival lanyard at the front door and made my way into the crowded lobby, which had many tables hosted by various art and community organizations. In addition, there was a book table hosted by Word Bookstore, that displayed books written by Black Women, including the authors who were panelists. Of course, I couldn’t leave New York without just a few books.

All the books I have from the festival.

The discussion panels are what truly made that day life-changing for me. First of all, the number of people who filled up the small auditorium blew my mind because never in my life have I been around so many black women who write. In college, I was one of the few (sometimes the only) black women in college who attended creative writing meetings and poetry readings held by the  English Department. Also, I don’t know 100+ black writers in Massachusetts, and there isn’t a specific book club group like this in Boston, so this festival was different for me. Secondly, it felt like I was part of a communal gathering because there was a moment during the first panel when a woman in the audience expressed her fears and concerns about publishing her first book. The panelists then asked everyone if there was someone who could help her with her struggles. So many people waved their hands. I loved the fact that everyone in that space cared about each other’s journeys. That was incredibly important to me.

My favorite discussion panel.

There was one particular panel that I learned a great deal from, and it was called “Reclaiming The Past, Empowering The Present, Writing As Political Resistance.” The panelists included authors, LaShonda Barnett, Natashia Deon, Bernice McFadden, Tiphanie Yanique, and Jacqueline Woodson. They individually spoke about how their writing speaks volumes of their own personal struggles and triumphs, and also gave advice to writers who need help. Barnett was a powerhouse when it came to advice, and I was so impressed that I ran to the book table right after the panel to buy her book.

Here are just a few pieces of advice I got from the day and will continue to motivate me throughout my journey:

  • On MFAs: “You don’t need that kind of license to write. Pick up the pen and write.”
  • Don’t reject yourself in advance.
  • “If you don’t write it, it’s dead with you.”
  • Perfection can be a way of procrastination.
  • Submit to a lot of journals and publications; expect rejections but one day you will have that life-changing moment.
  • Share your writing with friends and family; get feedback if you are unsure about your writing.
  • This is the best time to submit your writing because editors want opinions and stories from the Black community.
  • Don’t worry about what other people have. It was not meant for you.
  • Don’t give up on your goals.

When I tell you that I cried on my way home that night, wow. I needed this event so much. People still want stories, novels, essays, poetry, and memoirs, and I shouldn’t give up writing the next one. Well-Read Black Girl really saved my writing career because before that day, I didn’t think my words even mattered. They absolutely do matter, and I just needed a strong sign to let me know that I’m not wasting my time. I worn the Well-Read Black Girl shirt later in December during my spoken word performance to remind myself of this beautiful day.

The items I purchased at the festival.

For 2018, I hope to find a community in my area that motivates each other in our writing journeys. I know there are quite a few open mics in the Boston area that I was so afraid to attend in 2017, but that fear has to be faced so I can meet other poets and build relationships. Hopefully, if the festival happens again in 2018, I can gather a group of Black women and attend together, because I felt somewhat selfish of experiencing that festival, knowing that writers in my city would have loved to go.

The book table, full of books all written by Black women.

Writing for me is therapeutic, calming, exciting, and overall my purpose. The Well-Read Black Girl Festival brought me back to life in a great way, and I am forever grateful and blessed to have attended. If you are a creator, actor, musician, writer, poet, playwright, director, photographer, painter, anything of the arts, DO NOT GIVE UP ON YOUR GIFT. If you have doubts, search for a community that understands what you’re going through. Do whatever it is necessary to make history and be known for what you do. There will be mistakes, disappointments, and challenges along the way, but you will have your star-studded moment, I truly believe that.

I can’t wait for that day to come for me.

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