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Each One, Teach One | How Noname’s Book Club is sparking necessary conversations and encouraging literacy

“I feel like there’s always been a stigma on black people and reading...I’m trying to break apart the stereotype...”

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As KRS-One articulated throughout his catalog and in his many teachings, “Rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live.” As the culture continues to evolve today, many feel it’s not only important, but vital to preserve and honor the fundamental elements: Graffiti, emceeing, breakdancing, deejaying and knowledge. This column called “Each One, Teach One” aims to do exactly that. It will highlight various lessons that can be passed between new and old generations alike.

In a fast-paced world filled with modern marketing, the infiltration of social media, apps like Audible, and absolutely no shortage of excellent literary content to choose from, it can still be an extremely daunting task landing on a book to read — let alone make time to actually sit down with it. All too often, among my friend group at the very least, the eager optimism behind the “let’s start a book club!” call-to-action is unfortunately all too fleeting, no matter how genuine it may be in the beginning. However, one vibrant talent decided to follow through on an accountability tip, emerging as a necessary leader of progressive literature.

After putting out feelers to gauge interest amongst her fans and internet lurkers, alike, Chicago rapper and former slam poet Noname announced in late July that she was officially launching her own book club. This seed was planted via Twitter, when she and a fan bonded over both reading Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-determination in Jackson, Mississippi by Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya.

The premise behind Noname’s Book Club is simple enough: Feature two books a month, and create a space for community and conversation surrounding them. Each month the club highlights “progressive work from writers of color and writers within the LGBTQ community,” as well as promotes a network of local and independent bookstores that are carrying the selected works.

To kick off the book club, the selected works for August were Pedagogy of the Oppressed by the late Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, and a collection of essays by Samantha Irby titled We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, presenting one title that was informative nonfiction and another that was more creative in nature. This format was admittedly a bit unintentional, but feedback from fans shows that the balanced approach was appreciated.

This month, which is also National Literacy Month, the selections are The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty and Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith. While the book club is still in its early stages, it has since culminated in a kickoff event held at a bookstore in Los Angeles, as well as garnered partnerships with a handful of bookstores across the United States where future meet ups and discussions will be organized. On top of that, Noname is also launching an accompanying podcast to discuss the readings, as well as encourage members to send in voice notes sharing their commentary. Plus there’s now also merch.

Noname is really doing the concept of a book club justice, and this is incredible to witness unfold for a plethora of reasons. First and foremost, she’s honoring her mother, Desiree Sanders, who was the first black woman to own a bookstore in Chicago. While the store unfortunately closed in 2008, Noname has proudly stated that her book club will be honoring her mom’s legacy, all while adding a new element to her own.

Growing up in a bookstore and helping her mom upkeep the shop also helped influence her worldview, exposing her to a diverse array of authors and scholars at a young age, many of which would talk to her while they were browsing the shelves.

”It really helped my development and helped me to be as prideful and as strong-minded as I am when it comes to the way I view my blackness,” she said, reflecting on her book-centric upbringing during an interview with Essence.

She also stated how the endeavor aims to challenge stereotypes, adding, “I feel like there’s always been a stigma on black people and reading just because historically, we were boxed out of that process. I’m trying to break apart the stereotype that n----s don’t read because we definitely do.”

In addition to placing an emphasis on the importance of expanding one’s cultural and historical knowledge, the book club amplifies her own brand and self-expression as an artist by showcasing a different side to her multifaceted individuality, all while creating a space to deepen her bond with her fans. From encouraging literacy skills to urging people to support local businesses to highlighting important voices from marginalized communities, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the book club has since taken off in the manner it has.

Noname’s decision to launch a book club is also an authentic extension of her passions, as well as gives her an outlet to share that part of herself with others. The freshly minted 28-year-old — who celebrates her birthday this month on the 18th — fostered an interest in poetry, which eventually went on to lay the groundwork for her career in music. Her background in slam poetry introduced her to the art of performing, as well as paved the way for collaborations with fellow Chicagoans Chance the Rapper, Saba, Mick Jenkins and more.

Musically, Noname has expressed the intentional fluidity behind her artist moniker. In 2016, she explained during an interview with The Fader that her decision to create under such an intentional name is to allow herself the freedom to move between different outlets of expression. Her organizing a book club further strengthens the mercurial nature of her artistry and serves as a source of inspiration in and of itself.

”For me, not having a name expands my creativity. I’m able to do anything,” she explained at the time. “Noname could potentially be a nurse, Noname could be a screenwriter. I’m not limited to any one category of art or other existence, on a more existential level.”

Through her book club, Noname will also undoubtedly win over new fans or capture the attention of listeners who may not have spent much time with her music yet. While this isn’t necessarily the goal of the book club, whatsoever, it helps engage a core audience in a way that other artists can learn from.

As she continues to record music as a solo artist, most recently self-releasing her debut studio album, Room 25, in 2018, and cultivate community through her impassioned book club, Noname is building a name for herself in a refreshingly humble way.

Find out more about Noname’s Book Club via its website or by following @NonameBooks on Twitter.

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