The Black Literature Challenge
Seji Akinrogunde created a movement called the "#BlackLitChallenge", after recognising a lack of representation in literature. The challenge aims to encourage others to read texts by a more diverse range of authors. She hopes children can envisage themselves in the books they read, and explains the importance of online support. You can find Seji on Twitter and Instagram as @TheArtisanGeek .
Summarising the focuses of her website and social media, Seji explains, "My account is all about the books I’m passionate about! In recent times, it has also become a place where I can try and help change the publishing landscape, by supporting authors from marginalised groups." In terms of what provoked such an idea, Seji recalls, "Book blogging is what really inspired me to host the Black Lit Challenge. It wasn’t until I discovered this treasure trove of literature that I could so strongly identify with, that I realised how important representation is. Therefore, hosting something like the Black Lit Challenge seemed like a great way to give these books more exposure."
Although the Seji doesn't feel she has "experienced a lot of difficulties", she acknowledges "there have been a few racist comments here and there, but sadly that isn't something new". In one Instagram post, Seji describes comments she received, in which she was called "an ugly ape". Despite such abuse, the activist believes that the greatest challenge is actually keeping to a schedule in terms of posting content, and interacting with followers.
I asked Seji when she first became aware of underrepresentation, and about the effect this had on her. In response, she described her determination "to always see the positive side of things". Upon realising that a lack of diversity did exist, Seji "decided to dive in head first and try and get [her] hands on as much diverse literature as [she] could."
Seji believes we are seeing the repercussions of underrepresentation in today's society, as "ignoring minority authors is just another part of silencing the voice of specific communities. The result is a society that is controlled by the narrative of one (or a few) major group(s), that mainly operate(s) with the objective of keeping themselves in power, regardless of how that may negatively affect other people. And that is unfortunately how most societies we live in function."
I then queried further as to why diversity in litereature is so essential, especially for the youth. Seji replied, "Representation is vital. Thinking about this question, I immediately thought about my favourite author Akwaeke Emezi, who roughly said that people need to see the possibilities that are out there in order to consider them in the first place, and that I think reaches to the crux of the entire matter and why it is so important for kids specifically to have access to books that they can strongly identify with."
Regarding the importance of a close-knit online community, it plays a big role in Seji's life, due to the difficulty she has previously had in finding friends. It is difficult, she explains, to find others who share her interests in a small Dutch town, but has found some "amazing friends" online, some of which have even "become [her] real life friends". Unfortunately, there have been some spaces in which Seji did not feel so welcome, however she provided us with some solid advice: "the block and mute button help a lot".
We'd like to thank Seji for agreeing to collaborate with us, and wish her all the very best with any future projects!
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