A new book club is starting up in Hamilton strives to get more black Canadians to write romance novels.
Founder Tanya Lee – a book club enthusiast and certified life skills coach — says the idea for the club came out of frustration she felt at the lack of romance novels by Black Canadian authors.
“I’m starting the Black Romance Book Club … and what I promote is black romance writers,” Lee told CBC Hamilton.
“You walk through the bookstores, like everyone, and you look in the romance department and … there are very few black romance novels,” she said.
“If you want some, you have to order them. If you see a title, you must be guaranteed to order it from the United States. So this is very worrying.”
Lee says another reason for a Black Romance Book Club is that readers “don’t really get the Canadian romance experience.”
She says while “there are some great places in Canada,” romance novels are usually set in the Caribbean or Europe.
“I’m always amazed. I don’t hear about romance novels that take place in Alberta – with black people. There are blacks in Alberta, Edmonton and Calgary. I don’t hear about black romances happening in Nova Scotia, too, blacks there and in Ontario. It’s driving me crazy,” Lee said.
It’s not the first time Lee has started a group to promote reading and writing.
In 2017, Lee founded A Room Of Your Own Book Club for high-risk adolescent girls in Toronto, where she lives. The program is now running nationwide.
This time the new club will have its home in the Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH). The AGH organizes events such as author readings and writing workshops and manages the club’s subscriptions. Lee says the group will publish at least three books each year. The subscriptions are used to offset author fees, hotel, transportation and food for in-person events, hosting fees, event space, and technology fees.
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“We will invite authors to talk about their books, we will read [those books]are having workshops so black writers can start writing romance novels that are set in Canada,” Lee said.
In addition, Lee says a donation will be made to Martha House – a 40-bed emergency shelter operated by Good Shepherd in Hamilton for individuals and their children who are homeless and fleeing violence and abuse. The amount of the donation has not yet been determined .
“Reaching Underserved Audiences”
Shelley Falconer, President and CEO of AGH, says the book club fits perfectly with AGH’s priority to grow its community and program.
“Tanya has a lot of the priorities I have, which is reaching underserved audiences. She has a wonderful imagination,” Falconer told CBC Hamilton.
“We are currently incorporating books and literature into many of our programs. So when she came to me with the Black Romance Book Club… I said, ‘Absolutely, we’d love to do it.’ I can’t think of anyone who has done anything like that in the country.”
Like Lee, Falconer says Black Romance writers are “very hard to find.”
Falconer, who is of Jamaican descent, says the local black community also wants to be reflected in these books.
“So, I think bringing the writers together with a community that hungers for it was really why I was interested in it,” Falconer said.
According to Falconer, the idea of not only having a book club to bring people together to talk about books, but also getting the authors involved in the program and hosting writing workshops is “really exciting.”
Club open to everyone in Canada
While the club will have its home in Hamilton, it will be open to all in Canada.
“We have four personally [events] planned for the Art Gallery of Hamilton [but] My goal is to have other book clubs across Canada as well,” Lee said. “In addition, there will be an online book club every month.”
The club will hold its first event on Sunday 18 September from 2pm to 4pm. The workshop will take place both in person at the AGH and online, giving subscribers the opportunity to participate from anywhere.
According to Lee, the first speaker is already booked — Jessica P. Pryde, the Arizona-based author of Black Love Matters: Real Talk About Romance, To Be Seen, And Happily Ever After.
“Come ready to have fun and let the black storytelling hours begin,” Lee said.
For more stories about Black Canadians’ experiences—from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community—see Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.