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For students who aren’t the fastest readers in grade school, the dread of watching fellow classmates gush over an endless string of smiley face stickers that represented each book they read during class can be annoying, to say the least.
It’s hard to believe Southside Chicago-native and rapper Noname was one of those students. Anyone who listens to her bars will quickly find themselves immersed in a dense web of poetic charm fit for a literary canon.
The 27-year-old lyricist has an unapologetic wit sharper than most of your favorite emcees combined. But Noname will tell you, reading was not always her favorite thing to do—despite being practically raised in a bookstore. As a child, being a slow reader was frustrating and she eventually pushed it away.
In high school, that all changed after Noname was introduced to The Bluest Eye. Penned by master griot Toni Morrison, Noname credits the book with changing her entire perception of reading.
“I remember reading that in high school and my mind being blown,” she told ESSENCE. “I remember that book being really, really pivotal for me in actually getting me interested in reading.”
Two weeks ago, the Bronzeville bred rapper decided to start her very own digital book club to in celebration of her growing love for reading. Now, in between wrapping up a tour for her debut album Room 25, you can catch Noname serving up reading materials for all the homies across the internet.
Noname told ESSENCE that she’s wanted to start a book club with friends for a while. Yet, the recurring idea always fell victim to where many great friend group ideas go to die–annoyingly overloaded schedules.
But when Noname, born Fatimah Warner, tweeted a picture of her latest read: Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi, her attentive fan-base was already hip.
One of her followers retweeted with a picture holding the same book and asked if the two could be pen pals and swap notes.
After the serendipitous tweets, Noname took a quick poll to see who would become a member of Noname’s Bookclub. Over 5,000 retweets made it clear that the book club needed to happen and her followers were ready and willing.
“It was very spontaneous and impromptu. I did not really have a plan, but the feedback has been really crazy,” Noname said.
Before telling her managers, the book club’s accounts were created and the followers were rolling in by the thousands. Noname said her own team didn’t find out about the club until seeing it on social media like everyone else.
In the past two weeks, Noname’s Book Club’s Instagram and Twitter accounts have over 18,000 and 22,000 followers, respectively.
The digital club was in part inspired by Noname’s own entrepreneur mom Desiree Sanders who is the first Black woman to ever own a bookstore in Chicago.
Growing up Noname worked in the store stocking shelves and sweeping up dust. She remembers being mentored by scholars of Black thought and cultural critique who would stop and talk to her when browsing the store. Those same people would shape how Noname sees the world today.
“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.
Her mom’s bookstore closed in 2008, but this new endeavor will keep the legacy of the bookstore alive and showcase reading in a new light for some of her fans.
Photos of celebrity book signings from her mother’s bookstore are sprinkled throughout the club’s Instagram and Twitter accounts and there are even archived scans of Black Panther Party’s Intercommunal News Service. There you can also find tons of pictures of rappers and celebs reading different magazines and novels.
“I feel like there’s always been a stigma on Black people and reading just because historically, we were boxed out of that process,” she said. “I’m trying to break apart the stereotype that n*ggas don’t read because we definitely do.”
Last week, Noname announced the club’s inaugural books for the month of August. She chose The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire and essay collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by comedian, author Samantha Irby.
People who want to read along are encouraged to pick up one or both books. Noname is also urging people to buy their books from local bookstores instead of places like Barnes and Noble or Amazon.
Each month she will choose a book or two for followers to check out. The goal is to draw from a wide range of genres along the way.
For August, Noname felt it was important to offer a framework for understanding oppressive structures along with a lighthearted read with relatable stories to connect with.
“A lot of people were really, really surprised that I would pick those books and really excited about those books being the first two to start,” she said. “Kind of want to keep in that direction. I feel like it’ll be good.”
Recently, Noname said she’s seen a lot of Black reading communities pop up but felt that much of the hype remained in more academic spaces.
“They don’t infiltrate pop culture, hip hop,” she said. “I’m just trying to bridge the gap between those people and us, over here.”
Not only will Noname’s Book Club be an entryway into fun, communal reading but it will allow herself and others to hold each other accountable for reading and discovering exciting titles.
“I still struggle with reading. [But] I love reading,” she said. “Even though it’s just online right now, to be reading with a community just feels good.”
Noname is staying tight-lipped about September titles but she gave the clue that one of the books will revolve around food.
Overall the project is still developing. In the near future, Noname hopes to debrief each month’s books with a new podcast series. She also plans to create local chapters so people can fellowship and discuss their reading, while patronizing locally Black-owned book stores.
For now, more information on the book club and the books of the month can be found here.