By Brian Dunlap
On April 28, My Lit Box celebrated its third birthday at Hilltop Coffee & Kitchen in View Park-Windsor Hills. I arrived early, before the tables and chairs had been arranged and the microphone plugged in. The space was lively, black friends in conversation, white friends in conversation, hipsters sitting at the back counter completing work on their laptops.
Local poet Bridgette Bianca and My Lit Box founder and curator Sanura Williams, were already there, waiting for the event’s guest, L.A. poet Yesika Salgado, whose poetry collection Corazon, they’d be discussing with her.
This author discussion was a part of My Lit Box’s mission to celebrate writers of color, with a focus on women writers of color, through a community driven literary blog, thoughtfully curated quarterly book subscription box and book club. This was the book club.
By the time Yesika Selgado arrived at Hilltop Coffee, it had become crowded with mostly Latinx and black women of color. They were drawn to April’s book club reading by a poet of color who spoke to their humanness by writing about her own complicated, messy, flawed self. It was obvious and palpable that this kind of recognition and venue to explore and connect over this identity did not occur often enough. There was a hunger in the crowd that drove everyone to listen in rapt attention.
This creation and connection of community is exactly what Hilltop Coffee co-founder, Yonnie Hagos, spoke about last summer to the L.A. Weekly. “Part of our mission,” he said, “is to be able to create an inclusive, energetic space that provides a hub for the local community, with Wi-Fi and good coffee…a place where everyone felt included and a vibe that was a catalyst for inspiration.”
This includes being a welcoming venue for the literary community (The Free Black Women’s Library—L.A. held their launch party there the day before), bringing an absent piece of the wider L.A. community to this well-off black neighborhood, while ensuring the events are for the community it serves.
At one point during the book club’s discussion between Williams and Salgado, Salgado spoke about the need and importance to implicate herself in Corazon. As a poetry collection described on Goodreads as “a love story,” a “constant hunger for love,” and “feeding that hunger with another person and finding that sometimes it isn’t enough,” she couldn’t simply write poems only exploring the mistakes and betrayals made by her ex and have herself come off as faultless and perfect. That wouldn’t be authentic, would be doing herself a disservice, and wouldn’t make her, the speaker of her poems, trustworthy. It wouldn’t be fully exploring the collection’s main theme of love.
However, at the end, William explained that, for the third anniversary of My Lit Box, she had wanted April’s book club reading to be a bit more than just members discussing that month’s book. And to choose a book she thought they would connect with instead of only a good read. Plus, to have that writer give a reading to add extra depth and power to their words, especially since Corazon is poetry.
As Sanura Williams has said about the importance of highlighting writers of color, “The most valuable thing [they] bring to literature are their own stories and their own voice.” And on its third anniversary, My Lit Box was able to provide just that to the View Park-Windsor Hills Neighborhood.