The power of social media has allowed everyday people from every corner of the world to influence our taste in just about everything, including music, fashion, beauty and food. Now, one avid reader is turning her love of literature into a vibrant online community that’s all about Black books.
Milwaukee-based book influencer Cree Myles is the curator of All Ways Black, an Instagram account backed by publishing giant Penguin Random House. And for a book nerd like myself, I’m here to tell you that AWB is everything. With smart book reviews, interviews and just all-around cool content, All Ways Black celebrates everything there is to love about Black writers and readers.
Because I had no idea that being a book influencer was even a thing, I just had to talk to Cree about how she got into the game and where she hopes All Ways Black will go.
The 33-year-old self-described introvert grew up loving literature and says the library was the perfect place for someone trying to get away from the noise to feel safe. “The first years of my life, my parents didn’t have a lot of money, and so it was all about that summer reading program,” she said. “The first time I walked into my local library, it was so quiet, and I loved it. None of that has ever gone away,” she said.
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And the more she read, the deeper her love grew for Black books and authors.
“I read Their Eyes Were Watching God for the first time, and I read The Bluest Eye, knowing that Toni [Morrison] did that as a single mom while she was working a full-time job,” she said. “Finding out about these women gave me permission to take risks. And I really went through a renaissance in my early 20s where it was Zora [Neale Hurston], Toni, Audrey [Lorde], and Alice [Walker], and I realized I could do anything because they did it.”
It was an idea for a Toni Morrison read-a-thon she organized during the pandemic that would eventually lead to Myles’ partnership with Penguin Random House. “I remember getting so many DMs from people reading Beloved for the first time and going through it,” she said. “A few months later, [Penguin] reached out to me to tell me about their initiative, and they wanted me to head it up.”
Myles, who says she loves creating content, calls this job the perfect opportunity to share her favorite books and authors with AWB’s over 40,000 followers. “I still get to get cute and sit in front of the camera, but I’m talking about Toni Morrison,” she laughs.
But of all the content she creates, Myles admits her baby is the All Ways Black Cypher, where rappers spit their best bars about Black books – think the BET Hip-Hop Awards meets James Baldwin. Check out the latest one here:
At a time when book bans and challenges have been laser-focused on Black authors, Penguin Random House and All Ways Black are partnering with the nonprofit Little Free Library to make sure we have continued access to the books some conservatives don’t want us to read.
For every share of the latest AWB cypher on social, Penguin Random House will donate books by Black authors like Nic Stone, Audre Lorde and Ibram X. Kendi, and build Little Free Libraries in Black communities across the country. Myles believes it’s important to let readers decide for themselves whether not something is worth reading.
“The Bluest Eye, hands down, is an excellent book. And if you don’t want to read it, you just sound like a hater. We don’t even need to go back and forth about it,” she said. “Decide for yourself whether or not the book is good. Don’t let this arbitrary list created by people who don’t read tell you whether or not a book is good.”
Looking to the future, Myles says she wants to continue to grow All Ways Black and push Black books further into popular culture. “I just want it to get bigger. I think we have a really solid base of people who love literature. I would love to connect with people who don’t identify as readers,” she said. I think we forget that writers are the backbone of so many artistic endeavors. And I just want writers to get the flowers they deserve.”