Well-Read Black Girl marked five years with its annual book festival on Saturday centering on the theme of Black girlhood.

On Girlhood is the name of founder Glory Edim‘s second anthology released this week from the W. W. Norton & Company imprint Liveright featuring works from the literary organization’s library by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Rita Dove.

The daylong event started with a prerecorded surprise message from former First Lady Michelle Obama, who opened up about the support she received from the Black female audience for her record-shattering memoir Becoming.

Keynote speaker Gabrielle Union discussed in-depth the themes underlying her latest autobiographical story collection You Got Anything Stronger?: Stories with Glory in a prerecorded conversation.

The collection is a follow-up to Gabrielle’s 2017 best-seller We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True. She said she learned from the “overwhelming” response from readers that there is a “desperate need for community and to be seen and understood and to be embraced by one another.”

“I left out a lot in the first book,” she said. “And as brave as folks thought I was and as revealing as folks thought I was, I knew that there was a lot I hadn’t healed enough from to include in that first book.”

Brene Brown’s podcast and TED talks on shame and vulnerability along with therapy helped her cope with the stories she wanted to share in her new book, she said.

“It logically just clicked; it made perfect sense. Then to see a shaman who said very similar things, and he was like, ‘Yo, Gab, what if what if your vulnerability is actually your superpower?” she said, adding, “You associate vulnerability with being weak and you feel that it is counterintuitive to just expose your full self to challenges, struggles, joys, all of it, random feelings. You feel like that’s giving the opposition the ammunition to take you out but really it’s sharpening your sword to tackle the world.”

Feeling more comfortable with the situations that made her who she is, Gabrielle said she has adopted a “zero fucks given” philosophy with age when it comes to sharing her stories and battling the haters. She turned 49 on Friday.

“When the chatter gets little louder and the folks around me are like, ‘Did you hear what so-and-so said?’ No one with a hot take on my family or me has ever been anyone I’ve admired or whose life I wanted to emulate,” she said.

She discusses in length the backstories behind some of her new book’s chapters. The she lit book review can be found here.

On Girlhood

For the On Girlhood panel, WRBG scholar-in-residence Bianca Williams moderated the conversation with Glory and Farah Jasmine Griffin, author of Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature published by W. W. Norton.

“Nikki Rosa” a poem by Nikki Giovanni in the The Black Woman: An Anthology and Sula by Toni Morrison were the titles Farah said became inspiring Black girlhood works. Toni and Zora Neale Hurston defined the Black girlhood subgenre, she added.

“They both handled girlhood so well. They both gave us unforgettable Black girls,” she said. “Toni gave us Pecola and she also gives us Claudia and Frieda [The Bluest Eye] and Denver [Beloved], all of these Black girls. Janie [Their Eyes Were Watching God] is a girl, so we see ourselves as girls for the first time, fully dimensional in the work of Black women writers.”

Zeba Blay was the featured author for the On Carefree Black Girls panel. Her book Carefree Black Girls: A Celebration of Black Women in Popular Culture came out Oct. 19 from Macmillan imprint St. Martin’s Griffin. In conversation with Marjon Carlos, Zeba said she had to revisit her younger self who depended on the internet to collage images of Black women and inform her cultural understanding that led to her pop culture writing career.

“In writing this book, I was thinking a lot about my childhood, that younger Z who created the life I am living now and didn’t even know it,” she said. “I went through my old LiveJournal because that Live Journal was my life and I was astonished to see I was posting very similar mood boards in a different format.”

#BlackGirlMagic creator CaShawn Thompson discussed her children’s book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic edited by Lilly Workneh in partnership with edutainment publisher Rebel Girls. The book features stories for girls ages six and up on groundbreaking Black women like singer Aretha Franklin, tennis player Naomi Osaka, and presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm.

“Girlhood is a universal experience, but even in that, it happens in so many ways, so I had a real keen understanding after doing the work of putting this book together is that girlhood, much like womanhood, looks like a lot of different things, but it all leads us to who we eventually will become,” CaShawn said. “I felt like having a book that exposes the girls to the many ways that we show up would give them a wider and deeper breadth of what they can possibly become when they grow up.”

Festival sponsors include Rebel Girls, 4 Color Books, The New York Times, and HarperCollins Publishers along with partner indie bookstores Reparations Club in Los Angeles, Mahogany Books and Loyalty Bookstores in D.C., Café Con Libros in Brooklyn, and Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery in Chicago. Brooklyn-based Center for Fiction provided the space for the festival events.

WRBG announced this week it has partnered with podcast and audiobook producer Pushkin Industries for a podcast to debut in February 2022.