Ashley Tomlinson is a graphic designer. Leanna Da Cunha is an event planner. And she neither was seeing enough women of color in their industries. “But we knew they existed,” Tomlinson says. “One day we were chatting about this struggle over lunch and realized if we combined our skills, we could create a really cool brand and space to bring these women together.”
They wanted to kick off their new Cove Collective with a networking event, but COVID put a damper on that. So instead, they started the Cove Collective podcast, which features women of color chatting about issues, including interracial relationships, fatphobia and money mindset. They also reviewed books and asked listeners to read along at home. Eventually, they invited readers to join in the conversation via Zoom.
“Because we both share a passion for storytelling, we decided to pivot to a virtual book club while we waited for COVID out, and it just grew from there,” Da Cunha says. “Book clubs create a sense of community around reading, which is typically an isolating activity.”
The Cove Collective book club features works written by women and gender-non-conforming authors of colour, and membership is open only to women and gender-non-conforming people of colour. Tomlinson and Da Cunha make individual selections, then decide on a final list together (ensuring the authors come from diverse backgrounds), mixing fiction and non-fiction. The pair, who launched the club in summer 2020, have read 14 books together so far. The club now operates with paid membership that includes the cost of four books a year, monthly downloadable resources, virtual reading parties, Zoom meetups for book discussion and an annual in-person social event. It also offers complementary spots for low-income folks.
Books featured so far include “Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots” by Morgan Jerkins, “You Exist Too Much” by Zaina Arafat, “Marriage of a Thousand Lies” by SJ Sindu and “The Office of Historical Corrections” by Danielle Evans. The pair have also interviewed the writers either on the podcast or via Instagram. “Getting to hear each author’s process and background has been one of the highlights of running our book club,” Tomlinson says.
Tomlinson and De Cunha hope that spotlighting diverse authors will spark more support for them. “We hope to continue to promote BIPOC women and non-binary authors because their stories matter, and with more demand comes more supply,” Da Cunha says. “Seek out authors from different backgrounds to yours — we’ve grown so much in the past two years just by diversifying what we read.”
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