Cree Myles’ Instagram bio states: “I read and start sh-t.” The first part of the influencer’s self-appointed descriptor is self-explanatory. But you may wonder how one can stir up trouble by reading. As Myles explains it, when Black people came to Bookstagram and Book Tok, where influencers read and discuss books on Instagram and Tik Tok, they disrupted the predominantly white image of reading solely as an act of leisure, complete with knit blankets and cozy sweaters.
“Reading is an act of rebellion,” says Myles. “It’s an act of resistance. It’s an act that can change things. The revolution always starts with you internally. And the way to jumpstart any change you want to see is to engage your imagination in these stories.”
Myles mentions that in a country where it was illegal for Black people to read as little as 157 years ago, when we read, we resist.And in our resistance, we’ve managed to shape and reshape the literary world.
“Whenever there’s an argument about there not being an audience for a book…we are so clearly here and visible,” Myles says. “You’re not talking about an elusive audience. You can type in Black Bookstagram and see all of us. I think that has helped to lend some receipts to the work that matters and to the readership. I think it’s forcing publishing houses to be more creative.”
A part of that creativity has been allowing influencers to establish literary communities. After establishing her own book club, Black Like We Never Left, Myles, with the guidance of Karah Preiss, co-founder of the book club Belletrist, Myles partnered with Penguin Randomhouse for their new initiative All Ways Black.
“I had the idea for the book club and I told [Karah] about it. She said who would you want to do first. Of course Toni Morrison. I’m always trying to get people who would not read Toni Morrison to read Toni Morrison. [I said] if we have this read-a-thon, we give them a super digestible book: Sula. For the people who have already done that and want to get into the nitty gritty, read Beloved and then Song of Solomon,” Myles says.
“[Karah] said if we do that, then we should talk to the publisher which is Penguin Randomhouse. They were totally on board. Then a few months later, they said we’re starting this platform All Ways Black, would you be interested in curating it. I was like, “…What?! Yes, that’s my dream to read all day.” It’s been absolutely wonderful.”
In her relationship with All Ways Black, Myles picks the books she’s going to read, including the ones listed in the “I Can’t Believe This Lit” section.
“’I’m very sensitive to the fact that my experience as a Black woman is not everybody’s experience in Blackness,” Myles said. “I try to highlight all the literature that Penguin Randomhouse is pushing out just to make sure that everyone’s feeling seen.”
The platform also features conversations between Myles and the authors. Right now, you can watch her sit down with Mateo Askaripour, author of Black Buck. Today she’ll speak with Kai Harris, author of What the Fireflies Knew.
“The energy Mateo brings into a room is the same energy that exists inside his book Black Buck. That part is fun,” Myles said. “Just to have this designated space where it’s all books, all the time. We don’t have spaces like that:highly produced spaces where people are talking about something as meaningful and as important as literature.”
Myles is living the life, getting paid to read. And while it may seem like something out of a fantasy, Cree said that she knew this would be her reality one day.
“Name what you want,” Myles says. “I’m telling you, back in 2014, I was like ‘I’m going to get paid to read.’ I don’t know where or when or how but this is what I’m going to do. It looked completely impossible because what I’m doing did not exist a year and a half ago. Naming it so God and the universe know that y’all are lock step is really the first step.”
A quote and a statistic about the life and work ethic of Kobe Bryant also changed the way Myles moved.
“The [quote from Bryant] was, ‘I don’t have anything in common with lazy people.’ Grind culture is toxic but also make sure that you’re looking yourself in the mirror and knowing that you’re doing everything you need to be doing, which is completely different for everyone. But make sure you know,” Myles says. “Then the statistic was Kobe is the top three highest shooters in all of NBA history but, at the time of his death, he held the stat for the most missed shots. I thought Kobe was always trying. So that was me diving into Pulitzer Prize winning author’s DMs. You’re just shooting shots all the time. I looked myself in the face and said I’m going to go super hard [on Instagram] for six months and see what happens. And this is what happened.”
Learn more about All Ways Black here.