Renée Hicks is a mother of 7-year-old boy/girl twins, works for the State of Georgia as a social media and events coordinator and is a recent reluctant-turned-avid reader. She is also the founder of Book Girl Magic, an online book club with a very important twist: reading books that celebrate black female authors. The idea was born out of a desire to introduce all readers to authors who might otherwise not be celebrated like their peers, especially in an industry largely dominated by males. Now, the group has morphed, inspiring women across the world to read outside of their own ethnic groups. Book discussions, lead by Renée, are held online on the first Tuesday of every month via the Book Girl Magic Facebook group and Instagram pages. In a world in which our differences can seemingly tear us apart, Renée uses books to bring us together. Welcome today’s FACE of the South, Renée Hicks!
One of the most interesting aspects of your story is that you weren’t always an avid reader. Can you expound upon that and tell us a little bit about how Book Girl Magic came to be?
I grew up playing sports 24/7. Because I was always playing, there was no time to pick up books and read for pleasure. I actually hated reading growing up. A couple of years after I got divorced, I decided to better myself — mind, body and soul. A part of that process was to read more. In 2016, I challenged myself to read one book a month, and that’s where my love for reading was born. With each passing year, I began to read more and more. As a child, I also grew up in the suburbs attending mostly white schools and playing softball, a mostly white sport. So I didn’t have many opportunities presented to me to learn about black people and black culture. This is how Book Girl Magic came to be. In November of 2017, I decided to start a small book club with a few friends to challenge myself to read more books by people who looked like me. A few friends quickly turned into a few thousand, and the rest is history.
Why is it so important that we examine our own reading history and make an effort to pursue books by and about people that don’t look like or come from a similar background as us?
I think it comes down to understanding one another better. When you dive into books by or about black people, you get to hear our stories being told firsthand. I think history books, especially in grade school, have a way of lightening the trauma and hardships that we, as black people, have gone through. I know I truly didn’t have a good understanding of all that black people went through until these past few years. The more I continue to research and read, I find myself in awe of how strong our people are as a whole. From slavery to the Jim Crow Era, to the New Jim Crow, it paints a bigger picture for me. Black people as a whole, still to this day, struggle to have a voice, and I wanted to change that. We have such important and inspiring stories that need to be told and heard by all.
Can you speak to the reasons representation in the literary world (and beyond) is so important for both adults and children?
I know growing up, there weren’t many people who looked like me, so I didn’t have an understanding of who I was and where I came from, nor the struggles that my people went through. I felt very naive and even blinded, if I’m being honest. I’m happy to see that there are so many more books available today that represent black people, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. It’s so important for me to instill this knowledge in my own children and have the ability to gift them with books by and about people who look like them. I want them to grow up being in the know and also being proud of their culture.
If someone reading this article wanted to read a book by or about an under-represented group, what title would you recommend?
What first popped into my mind was Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper. We did it as a book club read back in February, and had a ton of participation from both black and white women. In fact, many of the white women who participated in our monthly read along were in awe of how much they learned. It’s a great read on understanding black women as a whole and our struggles — past and present.
What are some titles we should put in our kids’ hands and on their bookshelves?
A few favorites of mine are Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison, Ghost by Jason Reynolds, and I Am Enough by Grace Byers.
What do your kids think about your blog/community? Have you ever thought about starting a kids’ version?
Sometimes they think their mama is a superstar, which is flattering. They’re extremely proud of me and often ask questions about it. It’s even encouraged them to read more since they always see me doing it. I have thought about starting a kids’ book club, which I may do when they get a little older. I know that I’ll definitely be reading a lot of my favorite childhood classics with them as they grow.
Who is an author you admire and why?
Zora Neale Hurston comes to mind. She was way ahead of her time with her writing. She was bold and didn’t hold back to appease publishers. This resulted in her latest book Baracoon (written in 1931) not being published until recently. Back then, publishers told her they would only buy it if she rewrote it in a language other than dialect. She refused. Her actions were extremely admirable, and this book was probably one of my favorite reads of 2018!
I have to know: Is writing a book in your future?
I certainly hope so — the path that got me here is quite the story! So I hope to write a fiction book in the near future that incorporates a lot of my real life in it. I think the fun part will be people trying to decipher what’s real and what’s not.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
To not be afraid to be myself. That there is a place in this world for me and all my crazy ideas. I can definitely see that now through Book Girl Magic.
Excluding faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Books, ice cream and Netflix
Join the Book Girl Magic discussions via Instagram and Facebook. Thank you, Renée, for sharing your story with us! And thank you to photographer Catrina Maxwell of CatMax Photography for these fantastic photos of Renée.
Meet more amazing Southern women in our FACES archives — click HERE!