A new book club launching in Hamilton is on a quest to get more Black Canadians writing romance novels.
Founder, Tanya Lee — a book club aficionado and a certified life skills coach — says the idea for the club grew out of the frustration she experienced because of the near non-existence of romance novels written by Black Canadian authors.
"I'm starting the Black Romance Book Club … and what I'm promoting is Black romance writers," Lee told CBC Hamilton.
"You walk through the bookstores, like, all of them, and you look in the romance section and … there are very few Black romance novels," she said.
"If you want some, you have to order them in. If you see a title, it's guaranteed you have to order it in from the United States. So, it's very disconcerting."
Lee says another reason for a Black Romance Book Club is that readers "don't really get the Canadian experience of romance novels."
She says while "there are some great places in Canada," romance novels are usually set in the Caribbean or in Europe.
"I am always baffled. I don't hear about romance novels taking place in Alberta — with Black people. There are Black people in Alberta, Edmonton and Calgary. I don't hear about Black romance taking place in Nova Scotia. There are Black people there, too, and in Ontario. It's driving me nuts," Lee said.
It's not the first time Lee has created a group to promote reading and writing.
In 2017, Lee founded A Room Of Your Own Book Club for high risk teen girls in Toronto, where she lives. The program now runs nationally.
This time around the new club will have its home at the Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH). The AGH will host events such as author readings and writing workshops and is managing the subscriptions to the club. Lee says the group will feature at least three books each year. The subscriptions will be used to offset author fees, hotel, transportation and food for in-person events, hosting fees, venue space and technology fees.
"We are going to bring in authors to talk about their books, we're going to read [those books], have workshops so that Black authors can start writing romance novels that take place in Canada," Lee said.
Additionally, Lee says a donation will be made to Martha House — a 40-bed emergency shelter run by Good Shepherd in Hamilton, for individuals and their children who are homeless and fleeing violence and abuse.The size of the donation has not yet been determined.
'Reaching underserved audiences'
President and CEO of the AGH Shelley Falconer says the book club was a perfect fit with the AGH's priority to broaden its community and programming.
"Tanya has a lot of the priorities that I have, which is about reaching underserved audiences. She has a wonderful imagination," Falconer told CBC Hamilton.
"We integrate books, literature into a lot of our programming right now, so when she came to me with the Black Romance Book Club … I said, 'absolutely, we'd love to do it.' I can't think of anyone that's done something like this in the country."
Like Lee, Falconer says Black romance authors "are very difficult to find."
Falconer, who is of Jamaican heritage, says the local Black community also wants to see themselves reflected in those books.
"So, I think bringing the writers together with a community hungry for this was really why I was interested," Falconer said.
According to Falconer, the notion of not only just having a book club to bring folks together to talk about books, but also bringing the authors to the program and having writing workshops "is really exciting."
Club open to all in Canada
While the club will have its home in Hamilton, it will be open to all in Canada.
"We have four in-person [events] planned for the Art Gallery of Hamilton [but] my goal is to actually have other book clubs across Canada as well," Lee said. "Additionally, there will be an online book club every month."
The club will hold its first event Sunday, Sept. 18, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The workshop will be both in-person at the AGH and online, giving subscribers a chance to participate from anywhere.
Lee says the first speaker is already booked — Jessica P. Pryde, the Arizona-based author of Black Love Matters: Real Talk on Romance, Being Seen and Happily Ever Afters.
"Come prepared to have fun and let the Black storytelling hours begin," Lee said.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.