Meet Mocha Girls Read: A Q&A with founder, Alysia Allen

Mocha Girls Read is a book club for black women who love to read, want to read more and meet like-minded women. They are here to share literature, fellowship and encourage others in the joy of reading. Though they are based in the Los Angeles area, they meet monthly in 13 cities across the US and have chapters in California, Philadelphia, Arizona, Minnesota, Maryland, Indiana, Virginia, and New York. As an eclectic group of women, they do not limit their reading to release dates, gender, race, or genre. The books they read include fiction, self-help, historical romance, bestsellers, and good ol’ short stories. Their book of the month selection process is democratic and entirely based on member nomination. Mocha Girls Read brings Black women in the community together through online and in-person chit-chatting about the monthly selection and a whole lot more. Alysia Allen, the book club’s founder, describes how being the only woman of color in two book clubs led her to set up her own:

After looking all over the internet for a book club, I found two and joined them both. They were really great and I have made a few new friends from them. But I noticed one thing about both of them…I was the only Black, woman of color, African-American, mocha girl in the clubs. I thought about this for a while and finally said to myself, “Self, there has got to be some sistas in LA who like to read.

In this interview, Alysia tells us more about Mocha Girls Read and shares advice for those working in book communities centered on diversity.

Jane: What is Mocha Girls Read?

ALYSIA: We are a group of Black Women who love to read, want to read more, and meet like-minded women. We are a reader-centered book club that reads everything from nonfiction to romcom and everything in-between. 

Jane: What is a Mocha Girl?

ALYSIA: She is a woman of color who loves to read. She reads all kinds of books. Fiction, non-fiction, dystopian novels, chick lit, you name it. She has read it or is going to read it. A Mocha Girl does not limit herself to books by women only, or by authors of her race. A Mocha Girl loves a good story with a healthy dose of page-turning excitement.

Jane: Tell us a bit about how you started and grew such a big, vibrant community.

ALYSIA: Well, it started from me attending other book club meetings in LA and finding myself to be the only Black person in the room. A friend who was staying with me at the time got tired of me whining about it and suggested (more than once) that I should start my own. I was reluctant but thought maybe a blog would be a great place to start. I quickly found and fell in love with the book blogging community. With encouragement from friends, book bloggers, and Google, I started a Meetup.com named after the blog. I didn’t think anyone would show up but 12 women did and here we are. Those 12, blogging and social media accounts spread the info about us and it got us to where we are today.  

Jane: What are your favourite Mocha Girls Read memories?

ALYSIA: After 10 years I have so many! During our first meeting, a woman off the street popped in and sat down. We’ve had several where we celebrated members becoming homeowners, graduates, movers, empty nesters, and new mommies. Our 100th book club meeting in LA; the first meetings I attended in San Diego, Sacramento, and Harlem. When I meet women for the first time and feel the sisterhood we have built from just reading the same books, it’s magical.   

Jane: What do you wish you knew before starting? What advice would you give to those wanting to set up book communities focused on diversity? 

ALYSIA: I wish I knew how big this was going to be. I would have built the infrastructure then and made it a bit more solid. I would tell people looking to set up a book community to set their rules and guidelines in place first. Then stick to it and don’t waver. It will be harder to keep a group together and on the same reading path if it’s not clearly defined. Set your goals, rules and guidelines, and share them with the group all the time.

Jane: Though Mocha Girls Read is open to everyone, it is focused on uplifting Black women. How do you honour this purpose in everything you do?

ALYSIA: We are very Pro-Black women. We tell people we accept non-Black women only if they are here to be pro-Black women as well. If they are here to help uplift Black women, help build and keep a safe community for them and be an ally, then they are welcomed.  As for men, we ask for their support, but not at the meetings. LOL! 

Jane: What does the future hold for Mocha Girls Read?

ALYSIA: We are hosting our first virtual conference called Black Readers Con. I’m so excited about it!  We are going to open two more chapters and then we will be at 15. We are also working on building our Board of Directors. 2022 will be interesting. 

ALYSIA ALLEN is the founder of Mocha Girls Read, a monthly book club for Black women who love to read. She is really just another girl who loves to read, then read some more, and wants to meet others like her. If you add a cup of green tea with lemon and honey, she will be overjoyed.

JANE LINK is a master’s student and an editor for Split Lip MagazineThe Publishing Post, and her own beloved bigblackbooks. When not trying to land her first job in publishing, Jane loves to read historical fiction, self-help, and everything by Black voices. She dreams of one day setting up an independent dedicated to publishing those voices. You can find her @verybookishjane on Twitter.

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