For a 2021 literary lookback, we noticed Phenomenal Media mature this year with the addition of a book club focused on exposing readers to works by underrepresented authors, particularly women of color.

The four-year-old company founded by Meena Harris launched the Phenomenal Book Club in November with choosing The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and its young readers’ companion The 1619 Project: Born on the Water as the inaugural picks and inviting author and editor Nikole Hannah-Jones and illustrator Nikkolas Smith to a virtual event. Phenomenal Book Club was the exclusive book club partner for the books based on The New York Times project named after the year enslaved Africans first came to the U.S.

A bona fide social media star, lawyer, and activist, Meena is best known for being the niece of our first female, first Black, and first Asian second-in-command, Vice President Kamala Harris. Her pro-vaccine Dec. 21 tweet announcing she has a breakthrough case of Covid-19 after receiving her booster shot went viral with over 70,000 likes. The success online, her family connections, and her entrepreneurial activism spirit has opened doors for her to grow her media company named after Maya Angelou’s famous poem “Phenomenal Woman.”

Besides her history-making aunt, Meena’s family tree also consists of her mother Maya Harris, who has also developed a reputation expressing her activism via Twitter as a lawyer and policy expert; her stepfather Tony West, the chief legal officer at Uber; and her late grandmother Shyamala Gopalan, a cancer researcher and civil rights activist whose story is told in Kamala’s 2020 memoir The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.

Expressing activism through books

Like her aunt, Meena has a publishing career. She wrote two children’s books: Ambitious Girl, published by Little, Brown Young Readers and illustrated by Marissa Valdez, about a girl finding her journey to overcome the “too ambitious” label; and Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea, published by HarperCollins’ imprint Balzer + Bray and illustrated by Ana Ramírez González, about the kid versions of her aunt and mother organizing their community. Both New York Times best-selling books came out in the last year and most likely served as inspiration for Phenomenal Book Club.

Meena’s company started in 2017 as Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign, a community-oriented organization focused on social causes mainly through message shirts. Top campaigns include the #PhenomenalVoter campaign to encourage voters to exercise their right in the 2018 midterm elections to the Justice for Breonna Taylor last year that manufactured shirts saying “Arrest the Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor.”

So far, the merch maker’s interaction with over 1,000 celebrities, athletes, and activists has catapulted it into a multimedia venture that also includes Phenomenal Productions that’s described as having “a specific emphasis on communities of color and underrepresented voting blocs.”

Curating books for children

The mother of two daughters, Meena has voiced her opinion that anti-racism works need to be incorporated into children’s libraries through their parents since schools on average have failed to add these works to their curricula. She wrote in The Washington Post op-ed published Nov. 15:

Of course, for Black and Brown parents, this isn’t exactly a revolutionary concept. Many of us have already taken it upon ourselves to give our children the full, accurate history lesson we know they must hear — just as our parents did for us, and their parents for them. But it’s time all American families start taking time at home to discuss the injustices that shaped our nation’s past, the work still to be done in our present, and the values that should define our future.

The new book club will announce selections quarterly and highlight a book already published between those selections. One of the missions of the book club is to aid the publishing industry in upholding its commitments to anti-racism and equity after the George Floyd protests.

Community chats last week were featured on the book club’s Instagram for its first highlight, Severance by Ling Ma, and promoting a giveaway on social media for 50 editions. For the holidays, Phenomenal is selling sweatshirts with a reproductive rights message and cookbooks by women of color.