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Spotlight: Columbia, South Carolina

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Spotlight: Columbia, South Carolina

This month we're thrilled to shine a spotlight on Silent Book Club Columbia, South Carolina. Organizer Jemia Williams (pictured above, left) may be relatively new to hosting a local chapter, but her impact on the community has been huge. Jemia also writes a Substack newsletter, so we've invited her to be our guest blogger. Thanks, Jemia, take it away!

How I Became a Silent Book Club Host

People often ask, “How did you become a Silent Book Club host?” The answer is pretty simple—I just asked.

Graduate Hotels, recently acquired by Hilton, is a national partner of SBC. If there’s a Graduate in your area, chances are they host a local chapter. However, I didn't know this when I frequented the Graduate to read with a friend. One day, I asked the front desk, “What happened to the book club you used to host?” The concierge replied, “I think we need a new host.”

Next thing you know, I was connected to co-founders Guinevere and Laura.

Silent Book Club Columbia at the Graduate. Photo: Jemia Williams

 

Our Growing Community

In the short six months we’ve been active, we’ve made a big splash in our capital city. We meet every 1st Tuesday at Graduate Columbia in downtown and have forged a new partnership with the Columbia Museum of Art on Main Street.

The art museum isn’t just for galleries and exhibits; it’s a hub for Columbia’s creatives, hosting galas, food festivals, fashion shows, and live music events. It’s also home to our second monthly reading experience, Read with ART, part of a wellness initiative.

Our museum meet-ups offer a different vibe from the Graduate. Sometimes, we read in the reception gallery; more recently, we curated a cozy reading room inside an empty gallery. Next month, we’re planning to enjoy the evening sunset on the Plaza.

Silent Book Club at Columbia Museum of Art, Photo: Jemia Williams

 

A Thriving Bookish Scene

This new relationship with the Columbia Museum of Art has introduced more people to our social—but also non-social—reading club. Folks from neighboring cities have even come to experience how we do things in Cola, one of our many nicknames for Columbia.

One of my favorite recent events was a visit from local author DéLana R.A. Dameron. Her debut book, Redwood Court, was February’s pick for Reese’s Book Club. She brought books to give away and sign, creating a delightful surprise for those who showed up to read with us that evening.

DéLana and I quickly became friends. I fell in love with the characters she brought to life in Redwood Court, and she loves what’s happening with our city’s Silent Book Club. Maybe one day, we’ll even host SBC on her farm—yes, she has a farm!


Meet DéLana R.A. Dameron


Author DéLana R.A. Dameron. Photo: Courtney D. Garvin

 

Since the Silent Book Club introduces readers to one another, I’d like to introduce you to my friend DéLana R.A. Dameron, a South Carolina native. She’s the author of two poetry collections and Redwood Court

Jemia: You attended your first Silent Book Club meet-up last month. How did you enjoy that experience? What is the draw to this style of book club?

DéLana: My first Columbia, SC Silent Book Club meet up was cute! My writing work style is on that thrives on being in public spaces (in real or imagined community) -- ones that have a cute vibe, good drinks, and decent seating. Pretty awesome to have it in my hometown, where I now reside, and while I chose to use the hour working on an essay, it was motivating to know there were real book worms also gathered in the same space...that books were our occasion to gather. 

DéLana writing at Silent Book Club. Photo: Jemia Williams

 

What inspired you to start your fiction writing journey? 

I am an artist whose primary medium is storytelling, and so for me that means I am interested in story first, container—or genre—second. That my first two published books are poetry is more a story about the publishing process, less about "poet-turned-fiction-writer." But, some of the themes that come up in Redwood Court are themes I think I tried exploring in poetry and realized I needed more room, and fiction gave me the space to explore, to take my time. 

Redwood Court is a cul-de-sac in the all-Black, working-class suburb of Columbia, South Carolina. What prompted you to center your story around this neighborhood?

We just don't get to read a lot of stories of everyday Southern Black folk. It happens to be the neighborhood where my grandparents lived for the entirety of my life with them, but mostly, I wanted to depict a narrative of the Black Southern experience that is often undertold—so often if we get the Black Southern experience the stories take place in the known metropols: Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, etc. On the other end of the spectrum is a rural depiction, and often the rural towns in Black contemporary literature are fabricated. But I wanted the challenge, the opportunity, the occasion to write about a real place, and make the argument that we lived here, had full and rich lives, and are worthy of our stories being told as well.

The book opens with a preface titled “Stories Everyone Knows and Tells.” What made you begin here?

Mika, the main character, is trying to figure out who she is and where she comes from, understanding the very real and wide fractures that exist for Black folks who are descended from the institution of American Slavery—there will just always be things that we will never come to know. In the book, Mika has to bring in a physical object that represents her country of origin, and you might imagine the impossibility of that. But through that quest with her elders, she understands that she does have stories, and the lived experiences of the people who raised her, and who raised them. And that might be as worthy as any artifact or relic her classmates were able to produce for the assignment. 

What theme or messages do you hope people take from reading Redwood Court? 

With Redwood Court, I have insisted that my family and my hometown be my anchors—my beloved subjects and the narrative jumping off-points into the forever unknowns of our collective legacy as descendants of the institution of American Slavery. Above all else, it is my hope that this book enters the literary archives as a poignant accounting of a working-class Southern Black suburban experience, highlighting the interior lives of extraordinary ordinary Black folk—its own special kind of Americana. 

 

Your first fiction book was a February 2024 pick for Reese's Book Club, which is a significant achievement and an inspiration to many, especially Black women writers. What advice would you give to aspiring writers looking to get their work published? 

I didn't want to believe I'd become someone who says this, but I understand it now: so much of publishing is luck and timing. The hardest part is staying true to your story. So often we want to write the thing we think will sell, or write towards market trends, and certainly that is a strategy. But it wasn't my strategy: I knew and know for whom I'm writing, and to what end, and so I had to wait a while because I decided to write what I wanted to write. The agent and editor will come along who believe in your project. The readers will come. 

What's next for you? Any upcoming projects?

Redwood Court opens up a universe of stories for me that I hope to explore across 10 books in multiple genres. Up next though will be another fiction project called FAIRFIELD COUNTY, which takes place about 20 miles north of Redwood Court in South Carolina, and is a father-daughter story about fate and legacy and inheritance...with horses at the center of it. Sooner though, I'm going back to the community workshop space and will be offering a virtual generative poetry writing workshop that pushes us to consider how we might tell a singular story over multiple poems, in a series. It's one of my favorites to teach and I'm excited to bring it back. Folks can get more information and register here.

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You can follow DéLana on social media at @delana.r.a.dameron and pick up a copy of Redwood Court at your favorite independent book dealer. 


For more info on Columbia, South Carolina’s Silent Book Club, check out our Facebook Page or follow me on Instagram @a.littt.life