Interview with Don’t Read Me, Read A Book (DRMRAB)
Qiana Drennen is the founder and president of Don’t Read Me, Read A Book (DRMRAB), the fastest-growing book club in the United States. In a little over 2 years, DRMRAB has expanded from its humble beginnings as a Facebook Group, to chapters in 27 cities nationwide and 1 in the United Kingdom. In that short time, they were awarded the 2016 AAMBC Literary Award for Book Club of the Year, and were also recipients of a 2017 Black Excellence Award. Our members are not only avid readers, but they are also actively involved in their communities. Initiatives have included sending water to residents of Flint, Michigan, and helping underprivileged families with their back-to-school and Christmas needs.
DRMRAB members have earned the nickname, “The Paperback Gang,” due to their high level of participation at the many book festivals held throughout the year, and their voracious appetite for purchasing paperback books. Members are proud of their expansive bookshelves, many of which hold books with personal, handwritten notes and signatures from their favorite authors. Their motto is: “We are not just a book club, we are a movement.”
BPM: Please tell us about your book club, store, or blog! What is the name? Where are you located?
QIANA: Don’t Read Me, Read A Book is based out of Columbus, Ohio, with chapters located throughout the United States and on Facebook. DRMRAB started online as a Facebook group in January 2015. I started the book club because I wanted my own group, instead of administering someone else’s. Fast forward to April of the same year, when I became acquainted with a couple of local readers and decided to start an in-person club that would meet once a month here in Columbus. A very good friend of mine, author Fabiola Joseph, suggested that I start offering readers in other cities a chance to organize under the DRMRAB umbrella. So, in February 2016, the first chapters began. Our Facebook membership has grown to over 2,000 members and our chapter members now total over 200 and growing! Our board consists of Vice President Terria Miller, Head Administrator Taheerah Brown, and Director of Charity and Volunteering Monica Redman.
BPM: What is the purpose for your organization? Does the name of the club/blog or store have a special meaning?
QIANA: DRMRAB promotes literacy in the African-American community, while supporting authors in a positive, judgement-free environment. We stand out from other groups for a few reasons. First, our members support the authors we read by purchasing thousands of paperback books. With the popularity of eBooks, common thought was that paperbacks were dead until we came along and showed everyone how false that assumption was. Second, we host and participate in face-to-face discussions with authors, and you really don’t see that anymore. The name of our organization has a very special meaning to me. My favorite cousin (who passed away last year) helped me come up with the concept during a battle for my attention, while I was trying to read. That memory is so dear to my heart, that I give out a yearly award in his honor.
BPM: Tell us about your members. What is the demographic of your group?
QIANA: Amazing! That’s the best way to describe the ladies and gentlemen of DRMRAB. We are more like a family, helping one another and staying in touch through all of the ups and downs of life. The main reason we’re amazing, is because we are already killing three Afro-American stereotypes.
1) “If you want to hide knowledge from a black person, put it in a book.” We’re a book club.
2) “Men surely don’t read.” We have a male chairman, as well as male chapter members.
3) “You can’t successfully put a large group of black women together in one place, at one time.” We have an all-chapter meetup at least twice each year.
We are open to anyone. DRMRAB has members from their early 20’s to late 70’s, male members, LGBT members, couples, Caucasians, lawyers, nurses, teachers, IT professionals, etc. With DRMRAB, the only demographic that matters is reading. We have a wide range of personalities who all mesh well together. Mostly everyone starts out shy, but quickly become comfortable when they join our DRMRAB family.
BPM: Can you share a few 5-star books that have expanded your horizons?
QIANA: Yes, I’d love to. Pricey: Playing in Traffic because it’s really well written and shines line on a subject matter that really isn’t talked about which is human trafficking. Niya: Rainbow Dreams because it’s so much more than just a story about a lesbian rapper. It’s one of the most touching love and coming of a age stories about two young girls coming into their own. Both novels were written by Fabiola Joseph, and are must reads.
BPM: Do you have any words of wisdom for other readers who are in or who might want to start a book club?
QIANA: When I decided to do this, I didn’t ask for guidance or advice. I had my own original ideas and didn’t want to water them down with someoneelse’s opinions or judgments. So, just like I would with any other business, I sat down and did my research and put my ideas into action. My advice is to thoroughly research the landscape and don’t just conform to what other clubs are doing. Hold onto your creative and original ideas, and strive to find that special “something” that will set your organization apart from others.
BPM: Do you primarily purchase books online or in a bookstore? Does the price of eBooks play a big part in the purchase? Would you ever stop buying printed books?
QIANA: I love my paperbacks. I mean LOVE them. And I’m proud to say that 95% of DRMRAB members feel the same. Hence, our nickname The Paperback Gang. Most of our purchases are made directly from the author. We are also huge supporters of African American owned book stores Like Hood Book Headquarters (2407 E 7 mile, Detroit,Michigan). Michele Moore who is an Essence bestselling author owns this store. It’s the hottest store around and they host the best book signing that we have ever attended. You will never see a Hood Book event without a member of DRMRAB in attendance.
The price of an eBook doesn’t really matter, because we want that paperback. If the book is only available on eBook, then we don’t care about the price. If we want to read it, we’re going to read it. The day DRMRAB stops buying paperbacks will be the day that the world runs out of paper and ink.
BPM: What has the main focus become over the years? What legacy will your club or blog leave for those watching in the community?
QIANA: Our main focus will continue to be shining the spotlight on African American authors. Why is this so important? Because there are so many unheard stories by great writers, and those stories must be heard. Rappers, singers, and actors get celebrated every day and I am adamant that writers must be equally recognized and celebrated. We will also continue to spotlight LGBT authors whenever possible. One of our friends (Richard) was a devoted activist in the LGBT community and we will carry that torch in his memory.
Legacy? DRMRAB will never die! Our living legacy will be the continued success of each author we read and the love of reading we foster with our members and their families.
BPM: When accepting members into the group, what are you looking for in a person? Has it been difficult to get people to join the group or to stay in the group? Do you have an online version of the group?
QIANA: We look for avid, dedicated readers. I won’t lie and say that we haven’t lost members, but we certainly have gained more than we’ve lost. And, yes. We have a large online presence, with plenty of involvement from our DRMRAB members and of course our authors.
BPM: Do you host special events during the year or do you work for any charities? Do you get together as a group to socialize outside of your book club meetings?
QIANA: Every year, every chapter gathers at Sistahs on Lit Book Festival in Silver Spring, MD. Papaya Wagstaff , who happens to be our DMV chapters chairman is the owner of this great event. S.O.L is amazing because it gives book clubs like DRMRAB a chance to mingle with fellow readers as well as different authors. It’s a weekend long event and i recommend that every book lover attends. Yes we also participate in several charities. When we first heard of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, we teamed up with Hood Books to send over 8,500 bottles of water to Flint’s residents.
In 2015, we adopted a family for Christmas, and in 2016 we adopted two families. We’ve also donated countless books to children. This year, we will also assist families with back-to-school and Christmas needs, among other initiatives. As far as hosting event every chapter host several authors throughout the year.
BPM: How can we follow you online? Do you have a website or social media pages?
Facebook: Don’t Read Me, Read A Book (The Reading Room)
Snapchat: Drmrab club