While black Americans are regularly left out of mainstream literary landscapes, when we are afforded racial representation, it’s sometimes limited to tiresome archetypes and narratives.
Personal trainer, vlogger and mother Maria Stuart has created an antidote to this issue, at least within the young adult (YA) genre with Red.Blk.Grl., a subscription box she launched on April 1. She’s one of many black entrepreneurs who’ve recently made efforts to make quality books more accessible to the black community.
“Black girls deserve to read about themselves in books,” she told the Huffington Post on Monday. “I want to reach all the bookworms, be they teens or adults and put black YA books written by black women in their hands.”
The Red.Blk.Grl. box, which currently has 85 subscribers and is targeted towards young black girls, contains one book as well as additional products, which can be anything self-care items to snacks, that are inspired by the book’s themes. Stuart did a soft launch of the box in January by creating an Instagram account to see if people would respond to the concept of Red.Blk.Grl.
To emphasize the necessity of the box, Stuart, who is also an aspiring YA writer, mentioned a study conducted by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC). According to CCBC, only 278 of the 3,400 children’s books published in 2016 were about black characters. Only 33 percent of those books were by black authors.
“Representation matters... In high school, there is much assigned reading in literature classes, and [black girls] have no choice over what they read,” she said.
“I recall having a strong desire to find a book with characters that truly felt and thought like me,” she continued. “I often could find something close to it, but there was a constant sense that something was missing from books where none of the characters were black.”
But in some YA books that do contain black characters, Stuart said the themes are often repetitive.
“I think the typical idea when it comes to black YA are things like escaping slavery, overcoming Jim Crow or even gritty urban tales filled with drugs and sex,” Stuart said. “I want to offer more contemporary books that still deal with realities of life, but also that offer sci-fi and afro-futurism,” she continued. “Each book selected must have main characters who demonstrate resilience, who are or learn to be self-reliant.”
While you have to be a subscriber of Red.Blk.Grl. to know which books these narratives will be reflected in, you can sign up for the boxes here.