All Ways Black: How one Instagram account is championing Black literature Milwaukee-based book influencer Cree Myles curates an account for Penguin Random House dedicated to celebrating Black writers.

How one book influencer championing Black authors is changing publishing

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

On Instagram's Bookstagram handle, there's a new project to celebrate Black writers. Maayan Silver with WUWM in Milwaukee tells us all about it.

MAAYAN SILVER, BYLINE: Cree Myles is always thinking about new ways to get people to read books by Black authors. One example of her creative approach, this freestyle rap session called a cypher. The Milwaukee-based book influencer posted the video to her Instagram account, All Ways Black. Here she is with Milwaukee rapper Genesis Renji.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CREE MYLES: This is the All Ways Black cypher 2022. We got Black. We got books. We got Black books. Gen, take it away.

GENESIS RENJI: (Rapping) All Ways Black. My mom taught me to that. And pages I will turn, said if you can read, then you can lead. Ain't nothing you can't learn.

MYLES: Yes. I watch it every day. That's like - I'm almost prouder of that than my children (laughter).

SILVER: The Instagram account All Ways Black is a collaboration between Myles and book giant Penguin Random House. Myles first partnered with the company last year when she organized a read-a-thon of Toni Morrison's books. The late author was published by Knopf, now part of Penguin Random House. A few months later, the company offered Myles a job curating an Instagram platform centered on Black books. Myles calls the platform All Ways Black thanks to her husband, who came up with the name about 20 seconds after she was offered the job.

MYLES: And he was like, how about just All Ways Black? Like, all the ways? So it was that quick. And for me, it's an aural check to make sure that I'm not just doing Cree's Black.

SILVER: Now, Myles has cultivated a space that includes interactive read-a-thons, chats with authors, photos and lists of new releases and other creative content about Black lit, like this word of the week video about the word ephemeral that she gleaned from Brandon Taylor's book "Filthy Animals." It's set to rapper Saweetie's 2020 song "Tap In."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MYLES: (Rapping) Kim K's marriage. Babies in the carriage. Being mad at yo' moms after she embarrassed. Ephemeral means less than for a short time, precluding this word of the week. K, bye.

SILVER: Myles' work was nominated for a Webby, which honors excellence on the internet, and a Shorty, which recognizes the best work in social and digital media. Myles' content often comes from her house in Milwaukee, framed by plants and colorfully arranged bookshelves. From there, she creates an easy rapport with internationally renowned authors.

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TA-NEHISI COATES: Hey.

MYLES: Hi, Ta-Nehisi.

COATES: Hey. How you doing, man?

SILVER: Myles immediately jokes that an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates is the biggest flex of all time.

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MYLES: Out on the Bookstagram street, everybody's like, yeah, Ta-Nehisi's kind and all the great things like that. But it's also like you're the literary Beyonce, so...

COATES: You know what? You know what? You need to tell them streets they need to dream a little bigger.

(LAUGHTER)

SILVER: Myles has a breezy interview style, connecting with authors personally and asking sharp questions about their works. It's a mixture of natural talent, preparation and an earnest respect for writers who she believes deserve the celebrity of singers or actors.

MYLES: I'm all about glamorizing Black literature and the writers. Like, they give us such important stories. They should be treated accordingly.

SILVER: She says Black authors know what it's like to be a person of color.

MYLES: I think a lot of times when you're just moving throughout the world as a Black person, as a Black woman, things are happening to you every day. And they rub you a certain way, but you have nothing to validate whether or not your feelings are justified.

SILVER: She found that validation reading Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" many years ago.

MYLES: I'm reading it, and I was like, yes. And yes. And yes. I'm not crazy. That was a seminal moment in my life, for sure.

SILVER: In championing Black books, she's developed an engaged community and the respect of fellow book influencers. Traci Thomas runs the popular "Stacks" podcast.

TRACI THOMAS: Often, other things I've seen on publishing platforms, they might, you know, have a Black intern, and then they post something that, you know, uses Black vernacular, but is very - feels very hollow. All Ways Black feels super authentic.

SILVER: Myles is functioning in a publishing world that's still three-quarters white, according to a 2019 survey by Lee and Low. Seventy-six percent of the books Penguin Random House released from 2019 to 2021 were by white creators. All Ways Black has proven to be an important way for the company to promote its Black works and branch out to new audiences. Myles consistently thinks about those who don't yet see themselves as readers. She wants people to know that great books are for everyone.

MYLES: Like, you wouldn't say, oh, I can't listen to Whitney Houston. Her voice is too good. I don't get it. And it's the same way when you're reading James Baldwin or Toni Morrison.

SILVER: Or, says Myles, many of the authors writing the Black canon today.

For NPR News, I'm Maayan Silver in Milwaukee.

MARTINEZ: And by way of disclosure, NPR receives underwriting support from Penguin Random House.

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