Milwaukee book influencer Cree Myles reflects on Bookstagram, the power of black literature | WUWM 89.7 FM
As the world’s population increasingly finds itself replying to 10-word text messages and scrolling through 60-second videos, Cree Myles just wants people to sit down and read a book.
That’s why the Milwaukee-based book influencer has built a community through the All Ways Black Instagram page. centered around celebrating black literature and those who love it. It is a collaboration with the publishing house Penguin Random House.
Myles energetically interviews groundbreaking authors – like Kiese Laymon, author of Long Division; Dr. Salamishah Tillet, activist and author of In Search of the Color Purple: The Story of an American Masterpiece and Robert Jones Jr., author of The Prophets.
Myles also interviewed Ta-Nehisi Coates, whom she likened to “the literary Beyoncé”.
Myles has a deep appreciation for writers and the essence of writing, calling it “the backbone of most art.” She points out that famous songs and popular movies were first written by writers and says that writers should be celebrated the same as singers or actors.
Myles also believes in the power of fiction, an art form which she believes can be seen as a hobby. But she notes that it can also be much more than that, in particular “an act of resistance for many groups, in [people of color] and Blacks and Gays,” as well as a creative way to approach important and complex topics.
She gives the example of NoViolet Bulawayo’s no glory, about a fictional regime of oppressed animals in Africa called Jidada that really tells the story of Zimbabwe. “And the story is so much closer to me because it gives me real creatures, real animals with real experiences. And that’s going to stay with me forever, I think, compared to if I read” and then in 1972, Robert Mugabe X, Y, Z.””
Myles describes books as an exercise in the imagination. “We live our lives in stories, we tell stories all the time. So why not strengthen that muscle, so you can engage in society more creatively and fully as yourself instead of constantly being told what you’re supposed to do.
Since social media is one of the forces that constantly tells people who to be, how to think and what to aspire to, with computer algorithms generating messages, advertisements and news articles, Myles has become an expert in the developing media to direct people to books. She uses music, dance, humor and aesthetic backdrops to meet people where they are. This includes the word-of-the-week videos she creates about the vocabulary she gleans from black literature, such as the word “clandestine” from Cherish Farrah by Bethany C. Morrow.
“If you want change, you can’t alienate everyone who doesn’t think and act exactly like you and expect everything to be different,” says Myles, who was a political organizer. “I know it’s exhausting at times, but I’d rather someone choose a romance novel that’s probably not tied to any kind of impactful change, and like that is their entry point to someday get to X, Y, Z, then never picking anything up ’cause I was like ‘romance novels are tasteless pieces of literature that don’t deserve [time]’, because that’s not even true either. Like, we all need a little romance.”
Myles says Black Bookstagram covers Africa and the African Diaspora, including the UK and the Caribbean, and is a stage of support, with Bookstagrammers sharing each other’s content, celebrating it and rooting for each other for the others. Myles even hosted the All Ways Black Awards, a virtual awards show celebrating the best in black books.
Myles says the content posted on All Ways Black and the wider Bookstagram community really inspires people to dive into featured literature. “And we always say things like ‘Bookstagram made me do it.’ Everyone chose a black book because everyone said, ‘You have to choose a black book.
Now, she says, there’s a community of other people who have read the books to check in with, not to mention the chance to engage with the writers themselves.