July started with Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jenna Bush Hager, Emma Roberts, and Emma Watson announcing their book club selections. Previous months’ book selections have been announced on she lit as book news, but while analyzing the monthly process, it became noticeably apparent that Oprah, the inventor of celebrity book clubs, hasn’t inspired any celebrity women of color to start their own massive book clubs.
Oprah’s Book Club was birthed in 1996 during the heyday of her famous talk show. A sticker with her book club approval on a hardcover meant automatic sales and best-seller status. It wasn’t until the last two years that celebrity book clubs have gained prominence again with mainly Reese taking the helm via her production company Hello Sunshine, which began with buying the rights of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl before it went on shelves in order to make the $168 million-grossing 2014 film.
As Reese takes on more projects stemming from books, Oprah hasn’t changed her book since November with her website still on Michelle Obama’s Becoming in anticipation of a new version of her book club on Apple TV+. Oprah told Silicon Valley insiders in March that it will be “the biggest, the most vibrant, the most stimulating book club on the planet.”
Other celebrity women jumped on the bandwagon like former first daughter Jenna starting her book club through her gig at NBC’s Today Show. Millennial actresses Emma Roberts and Emma Watson started their book clubs, with Roberts doing it through her literary website Belletrist and Watson getting help from administrators on Goodreads. But no celebrity women of color stand out as having an active and public book club beside Oprah.
Roxane Gay just started her own book club last week on HBO and online at Vice. Gabrielle Union seems to be a great contender to start a book club with multiple film projects in the works based on books by black women. Constance Wu is a chair of the Los Angeles Public Library Young Literati (disclosure: I’m a member) and received her biggest role yet in Crazy Rich Asians, based on the book by Kevin Kwan, and will star and produce the film adaptation of Goodbye, Vitamin, a 2017 debut novel by Rachel Khong. Mindy Kaling, who has written two novels with another expected next year, is another contender with a major role in A Wrinkle In Time, from Madeleine L’Engle’s classic book, alongside Oprah and Reese.
There was excitement in 2017 when Chrissy Teigen and Kim Kardashian announced they were starting a book club. Chrissy is half Thai and Kim is half Armenian, ethnically white but with a darker complexion, and both are constantly covered in mainstream media as well as black media because of their famous black husbands John Legend and Kanye West, respectively. But a year later, they revealed in a video how they met with author Betty J. Eadie, who wrote Embraced by the Light which they chose to be the first selection. In the video, Kim’s sister Kourtney Kardashian joins them. They said they thought it would be easy to start a celebrity book club, but they failed.
With so much publicity for the celebrity book clubs by white women celebrities, there should be more from nonwhite women celebrities. College-educated black women tend to be the most voracious readers, according to an old Pew research study, yet that demographic is underrepresented on the celebrity book club front.
Celebrity book clubs have a lot of influence, such as the aforementioned sticker meaning significant sales. Now with social media, thousands and even millions of readers could follow along with the book and interact with each other under the direction of the celebrity running the book club. This also furthers their influence, which was probably already established in entertainment, media, and politics. It gives them a more educated flair, such as with Watson of Harry Potter fame who began sharing pictures of the books she would read on the subway.
If there is a celebrity woman of color other than Oprah with a massive book club, then name her. The media seems to emphasize the celebrity white women and the books they choose for their fans, so maybe there’s more diversity representation in this game that’s not being covered.