Meet Jacquie J, the founder of the London Afro-Caribbean Book Club, a group of young people with a collective passion for reading. They have a special interest in books “that explore the life experiences of people of African descent throughout the Diaspora.” The group meets at least once a month in a restaurant in Central London to discus and exchange views about the books they read. At the request of Caribbean Book Blog, Jacquie agreed to an online interview to discus her book club and what drove her and her colleagues to get together for rap sessions about books that catch their interest.
Her feedback is invaluable on two fronts. It gives us some insight into the expectations of Afro-Caribbean and other ethnic readers in the UK. It also gives us an idea of the level of demand in England for books by Caribbean authors. It’s the sort of interview that Caribbean Book Blog looks forward to doing more of in an effort to get closer to the ground and get a sense of the literary needs of the grass roots, especially the youths. Besides, in a world where the TV screen rules supreme, it’s always refreshing to come across a group of young Caribbean brothers and sisters who are happy to bask in the joy of reading. Now over to Jacquie:
Tell us briefly about yourself and what made you decide to get together with friends and form the London Afro-Caribbean Book Club.
Jacquie: I have always been a reader. When I was young, after lights out you could catch me under the covers with a torch trying to finish a story because I just could not wait till the following day. I read all sorts, from Agatha Christie to George Orwell. However at a point I came to the realisation that as captivating as these books were, they were not really telling my story. I started looking for books by Afro-Caribbean authors. They raised so many interesting issues but there was no one to discuss these with. That is when I first considered the idea of a book club. I figured there were probably a lot of people out there feeling the same way so I put out an advert and the book club was formed.
How does one become a member and what do the members do?
Jacquie: To become a member one simply needs to sign up at http://www.meetup.com/afrocaribbeanbookclub/ and RSVP for meetings as and when they appear online. Members meet once a month to discuss the issues raised in the book for that month. The discussions take place over dinner normally in a restaurant in central London. Members take it in turn to facilitate the meetings and the facilitator comes up with a set of questions to give the meeting some order. Having said this, the meetings are very informal, and quite often we find ourselves drifting off to issues not raised in the book in question.
What was it like at your first meet up?
Jacquie: The first meet-up was surprisingly very well attended, I was nervous that no one would show up but 15 people came. The discussion was lively and all the people that came to that meeting have attended future meetings though not everyone has been consistent.
Is it easy to find books by Caribbean writers in bookstores in the UK or do the book club members have to resort to getting them online?
Jacquie: It is not at all easy to find books by Caribbean writers either in bookshops or libraries. Most members purchase their books online.
Will the club consider books by non-Caribbean writers?
Jacquie: We read books by Afro-Caribbean, Afro-American or African authors, or any books that explore the current state of affairs of people of African origin all over the world.
From your experience, do you think Afro-Caribbean readers in the UK would like to have access to more books by writers from the Diaspora?
Do you think there is a demand for books by Caribbean authors among other ethnic groups in the UK?
Jacquie: Whether or not there is a demand, I think these books should be more widely available. We need to show our young ones that we too can write and that they are not limited to careers in sports and entertainment only. They would also serve as a great introduction to the Caribbean culture for other ethnic groups. Before the book club I hardly knew any Caribbean authors and I am sure there are a lot of people out there who are just as ignorant as I was.
Do you have links with other groups and book clubs?
Jacquie: Several members of the Afro-Caribbean book club are also members of the Asian Book Club. We had a joint meeting with them this summer to review VS Naipual’s ‘Half a Life’. We plan to have more joint events in the future. The majority of members are also part of the Black Londoner’s group.
Who are your three favourite authors?
Jacquie: I like so many that I cannot pick three. In my top ten list I would include Jane Austen, Andrea Levy, Zaide Smith, Paulo Coelho, Arundati Roy, and Tony Morrison.