She’s bringing together the community through books!
Meet the Black woman launching Portland’s first Black book festival on Juneteenth weekend, Oregon Live reports.
Nanea Woods has been passionate about books since she was a teen, starting her first makeshift library at her all-girls high school, St. Mary’s Academy, in Portland. Back then, she put up shelves inside her locker filled with books, opening the library up to her peers.
“It got to be so big that I started a newsletter over the summer so girls could keep up with what I was reading,” Woods recalled.
That newsletter printed on pink paper that once gave simple book reviews eventually turned into a book club for women of color entitled Prose Before Bros, which Woods launched just three years ago. This newsletter now has more than 400 subscribers and boasts monthly meetings which are usually capped around three dozen attendees. There they connect with each other over books of course, but they also participate in various activities, from meditation to country line dancing. For woods, literature is a sure fire way to build community.
“I want to carve out a space for people who look like me to feel seen and to be heard. Especially in the literary space, because we don’t often get that attention,” she explained.
Now Woods is launching her largest undertaking yet, the Freadom Festival, Portland’s first Black literary fest dedicated to freedom and reading. The festival is set to take place Juneteenth weekend, an intentional move by Woods, in honor of the celebration of emancipation from slavery. The Portland native said the timing couldn’t be more apropos.
“How we obtained our freedom has a lot to do with reading and literacy,” said Woods.
The festival will feature a book swap, a drive to collect books for the nonprofit, Portland Books to Prisoners, a sign up booth for library cards and info about programing from the Multnomah County Library’s Black Cultural Library Advocates and story time for the kids courtesy of Portland publisher A Kids Company About.
The picnic style fest is open to everyone and will also have cool hands-on activities like a zine making station in addition to DJs, Black owned food trucks and a moment with two featured authors; Kesha Ajose Fisher and Kim Johnson. Woods has also partnered with Third Eye Books owners Michelle Lewis and her husband Chales Hannah. Third Eye is Portland’s only Black bookstore and the official bookstore for the Prose Before Bros book club. The store will be providing a discount to festival attendees, donating books and selling books on site.
“I’m encouraging people to come out, bring a book, bring a blanket, read, enjoy community and fellowship with other book lovers,” Woods said.
“Books bring people together. It’s powerful, even in [our store], how conversations can be created, be had around a book that people are reading, what they get out of it. So we’re happy to be a part of that process,” added Lewis.
Ajose Fisher will be reading some excerpts from her stories and speaking about the meaning of literacy for her. She says she’s “excited” to be a part of something so vital to the community.
“For me, having that freedom to be able to share with the community what Black books and Black storytelling mean right now really was the number one reason why I wanted to be a part of it,” said Ajose Fisher.
Johnson will also be reading from her young adult novel, “This is My America,” which discusses racism in the criminal justice system, the story set in Galveston, Texas, the last city where enslaved peoples discovered they were free on June 19, 1865. Johnson said she didn’t read a book written by a Black author with Black characters until she was in college and this festival will help change that for an entire generation of readers.
“[The opportunity for Black book lovers to] celebrate and see themselves in a community, to see stories written by and about Black people, is really meaningful in a community that often doesn’t have an opportunity to celebrate in that way…I hope that people see and are drawn to [the festival] and then want to think about what can happen next year,” said Johnson.
Woods said she is excited and “so touched” by the response to the festival and every one who has lended a hand to help make it happen.
The Freadom Festival takes place Saturday, June 18 at Peninsula Park in Portland, Oregon.
Photo Courtesy of Oregon Live