Working in a bookshop is pretty cool on a scale of 1-10, it's an 11. Owning one is a dream, well, you know, mostly.
But even I could not imagine the amazing opportunities and strange places I would find myself.
So here is the story about last week.
We run a supper club. Our supper club is very simple, it is a book club that meets over a 2-course meal in my home. We have a 2 course Caribbean meal, and we talk, a lot. It is our most popular book club and is usually booked up months in advance.
So, 2 weeks ago I wake up with an idea. Why don’t I invite authors to come and eat with us at the supper club? I get very excited about this idea; I mean really excited. The main reason for this is that if an author comes to supper club, we would be able to pay them because supper club is so successful it actually makes a profit.
So, I start to plan in my head who I can invite for May and beyond. Then on Tuesday I begin to think about our books for March “Open Water”. I recall that I met the author for 90 seconds at a publishing event before Christmas and he said that he like Brighton. Supper club for March is 6 days away and I think “Ah! Why not?” So, I contact Caleb Azumah Nelsons’ publicist and ask if he would like to come to dinner in a few days. Astonishingly he says yes.
Dilemma number 1: Do I tell the guests that he is coming? Dilemma 2: Do I need to change the menu?
I decided the answer to both was no.
And what a night it was. As you can imagine the guests were delighted when they found out who the extra guest was. Caleb was a dream to have dinner with, he was transparent, honest and open and our guests were outstanding. We enjoyed a once in a lifetime evening of incredible conversation, sharing our hearts, hurts, triumphs and joys. The guests have messaged me since raving about the evening and how unique it was.
So, am I telling you all this as some sort of publishing namedropping? Or is it a sales technique for our Bookclubs? Nah
I am telling you all of this because I want to remind you that this was not my world. This was not by speciality or skill set. I have had no training; I have no people who know people to get me in touch with the people.
I am a working-class black woman from sunny Brixton, southeast London.
What is this? This is the fruit of my frustrations. Afrori Books started because I was so mad about the inaccessibility of the books that I knew were out there. It started because it made no sense not to give black authors a platform and some support. I never dreamed that I would be entertaining authors or running a bricks and mortar shop or planning a book festival where black authors were an equal part of the program or speaking at London Book fair and all the other things. I was just annoyed, and I knew that doing nothing would always achieve nothing.
So here we are.
And where are you?
Where has your frustration taken you today? This year?
Because it is possible for it to achieve something and even the thing you think is just small is so often way bigger than you think. I make bold choices because I choose not to be afraid or offended when people say no to me. Caleb could have said no, but I had nothing to lose in asking, in pushing the door to see what happened. So often people won’t push, and we are stuck with the same old, same old. What if you pushed, just a little today? What if you said something to your boss about diversity in your workplace? What if you invited someone outside of your comfortable circle to the pub for a drink? What if you volunteered for a refugee centre? What if you did something about the sexism, racism, misogynoir behaviour around you? What if you wrote to your MP about child Q?
There are so many what if’s, surely the worst what if is what if you took all that you could have done to your grave untouched?
If I can be the change, so can you. You decide who your next dinner guest will be. You decide the impact you will have and how you will change the world.