The oldest operating Black book club in the US meets right here in New Jersey
The oldest operating Black book club in the United States meets in New Jersey.
Bibliophiles Incorporated is an African American reading group that was created in 1988 by two Black women. It has grown into an organization with a deeper meaning rooted in a love of books and a purpose of preserving the literature of the African Diaspora.
Co-founder Joyce Harley says the group began after she was deeply moved by Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved.”
“It touched our souls, and we couldn't stop talking about it with each other - with our friends - and we realized that we needed to gather people together to talk about this book because it meant so much to us,” Harley says.
The Bibliophiles are the oldest continuously operating and incorporated Black book club in America.
“We’ve read everything… We have formed not just a tribe of people who love the literature of the African Diaspora, but we formed a sisterhood,” Harley says.
The group is comprised of women from differing professions, with a mutual interest in reading, sharing, promoting, and preserving the literature of the African Diaspora.
“We find that the books we select…just reveals so much about us as a people here in this country, about our ancestors who came from Africa and what they endured coming here,” says group member Mary G. Bennett.
The Bibliophiles are an extremely organized group that meets every other month. They have an executive board and a process for book selections that happens every November and lays out the plan for the coming year
“Books are presented and then we vote, and the top vote-getters are the books we read for the coming year,” says Bennett.
The Bibliophiles say those who forget their history are doomed or destined to repeat it. This is why the group says it is important that they honor and recognize the keepers of the culture.
“That's the richness of what we do. We recognize that we are African Americans but that there's a plethora of works by others everywhere; in Latin America, on the continent of Africa etc.... and we welcome them,” says group member Deborah Collins.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way that they gathered, and now the Bibliophiles meet virtually. But this has allowed members who have moved away from Essex County to continue to participate in the group.