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Get Ready for the 2021 Queer Blackathon!

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Jessica Pryde

Contributing Editor

Jessica Pryde is a member of that (some might call) rare breed that grew up in Washington, DC, but is happily enjoying the warmer weather of the desert Southwest. While she is still working on what she wants to be when she grows up, she’s enjoying dabbling in librarianship and writing all the things. She can be found drowning in her ever-growing TBR and exclaiming about romance in the Book Riot podcast (When in Romance), as well as on social media. Find her exclamations about books and pho on twitter (JessIsReading) and instagram (jess_is_reading).

This Juneteenth, join Jesse at Bowties & Books and their buddy Starlah of StarlahReads in a 48-hour readathon focused specifically on works by and about queer Black folks. There are multiple points of entry, including a group read, reading prompts, or just following the parameters. The announcement video has all the key information, but if you want to know the specific deets, here goes:

What: Second Annual Queer Blackathon

When: Saturday, June 19 (AKA my birthday Juneteenth), 2021 and through the weekend

How Long: For however long you want to participate across the 48-hour period

As a queer Black woman with an enormous, never-ending TBR, I’m always happy to find a way to hone and refine said reading list, and things to join that will help me dig through it. And Jesse and Starlah have come up with ways that anyone who wants to join can take whatever time they want and whatever avenue they’d prefer to celebrate and acknowledge the lives of Black queer folks living and lost.

Group Read

cover image of Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Your first option is to read a selected book. Sorrowland is a genre-bending novel, incorporating elements of fantasy, horror, and gothic to tell an all-too-real story. Vern, pregnant and on the run from the cult in which she was raised, experiences changes in her status and her own body. After giving birth to twins in the wilderness to which she’s escaped, she experiences a metamorphosis that allows her to inflict violence like she’s never known. It’s not a long book, but it’s wildly intense, and you might not be able to read it to completion by the end of the readathon. But maybe you will.

Reading Prompts

Your next option is to read from three reading prompts. You can stick to one prompt, combine prompts, or read something of all three. They’re relatively broad prompts, so you can probably find something in your TBR already that would work, but just in case, I’ve got some ideas for you, too!

Prompt One: Read a Book By an Author You Haven’t Read Before

This one is hard to recommend for, because I have no idea who you, dear reader, might or might not have read. But here goes:

James Baldwin Books: The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Link:

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

There is always that classic author or novel that we’ve all been meaning to read but never got around to. The Fire Next Time is perfect for this weekend in that it is one of the shorter works by the great James Baldwin and a perfect representation of his searing prose and speech. If you’d rather read one of his works of fiction, Giovanni’s Room is the shortest, but features white protagonists. 

Things Hoped For by Chencia C. Higgins

If you’re looking to dip your toe into the amazing world of Black romance, this WLW novella is a perfect entry point. It centers a young woman newly out and newly arrived in Houston and the up-and-coming hip hop star looking to win her heart. It’s cute and quick and perfect for a readathon.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Maybe you haven’t picked up much YA? This is the perfect representation of what contemporary queer YA looks like, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Kacen Callender has been winning awards left and right for his work for all different ages, and this book was one of my favorites for any age range last year. 

Prompt Two: Read a Graphic Novel

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall

This is technically cheating because it is a graphic history, not a novel, but it’s a spectacular collection of stories about AFAB people of all types fighting for their rights across history.

Bingo Love cover

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin

Bawl your eyes out at this story about two teenage sweethearts who are torn apart only to find each other decades later at bingo, of all places. There are actually two different versions of this you can try out. There’s the original, which is sweet as all get out, and then there’s the Jackpot Edition that has short stories by even more storytellers. 

Black Panther: World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay, Yona Harvey, Rembert Browne, Afua Richardson, Alitha Martinez, Joe Bennett, et al

If there’s one Black Panther comic you should read, it’s this one. Telling the love story of Ayo and Aneka, two of the women warriors of the iconic Dora Milaje, this standout story is easy to pick up even if you’re not well-versed in the Marvel universe.

Prompt Three: Read a Book with a Bisexual, Asexual, or Trans Protagonist, By an Author That Fits into One or More of Those Identities, or Both

The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow

This book has everything: a secret librarian, alien invasions, road trips, and personal discovery. The main character of this well-plotted take on the colonizer/colonized story is a young Black woman who identifies as bisexual and gradually discovers the complexity of her own sexuality. 

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

This strange and impactful book is a look at so many different experiences, it’s hard to say what is most prominent. It was a debut that made an explosion and Akwaeke Emezi has been blowing things up everywhere they’ve gone from then on.

Really, anything by this author is probably a good choice for this weekend.

Drag Me Up by RM Virtues

There have been a lot of Hades and Persephone retellings this year, but if you’re only going to read one, this is it. While it doesn’t have the magical elements, that pull towards the Underworld is just as strong.

RM Virtues is a breakthrough new romance author who has made a huge splash in a small amount of time, and I look forward to seeing where he goes next (I hear there’s a Black retelling of The Mummy in our futures).

And obviously, these are just suggestions. There are so many other authors you could pick up that weekend. Leah Johnson. Julian Winters. Countee Cullen. Dean Atta. Janet Mock. Samantha Irby. Claire Kann. Alice Walker. Morgan Rogers. Bryan Washington. Paul Mendez. Bayard Rustin. Katrina Jackson. Kosoko Jackson.  I could go on.

Just Read

Your third option is to just read. Read books that highlight and elevate the queer Black experience, or just books by queer Black authors that are about any damn thing. The most important part is that you’re reading it.

And of course, you can combine any of these methods to have an amazing Juneteenth weekend full of queer Blackness. Read Sorrowland and a few graphic novels. Read a bunch of new-to-you queer Black authors. Or read a little bit of everything. It’s your weekend, we’re just here to make it a little better. 

Jesse stresses in their announcement that the most important part of this — particularly if you’re reading via the second and/or third options — is to read diversely across the Black experience and the queer experience. Read more than just books by gay authors or about urban life. If you’re able to read more than one book in this span of time, read as many perspectives as possible — particularly if they are underrepresented perspectives even among the Black community. 

Watch Jesse’s announcement video and subscribe to their channel to keep up-to-date on Queer Blackathon happenings:

And start prepping your TBR!

Never done a readathon before? Here are some tips for your first readathon journey.