An Interview with Nyasha Bryant of Miss Read Books
by Daviona Moore
Black History Month is a time of celebration, learning, and kinship, especially for the Black community. One way JCI Worldwide is celebrating is through the amplification of Black excellence and resources through our platform as a PR firm.
To kick off JCI’s month-long Can’t Touch This! interview series, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Nyasha Bryant, Founder of Miss Read Books in Los Angeles. Since opening in 2020, Miss Read Books has focused on literature by and about femmes of color.
We met over Zoom for a discussion of her passion for Black writing, representations of femmes of color in literature, and the Black experience. I began by asking what she considers her field of work to be.
Nyasha Bryant: My passion, I guess...it's a little complicated. I would like to say that I’m a creative. But specifically, I’m a bookshop owner, and I work in the entertainment industry. We produce behind-the-scenes projects and do interviews for all sorts of films and TV shows.
Daviona Moore: How did you get your start with books specifically?
Nyasha Bryant: My mom got me reading before I started kindergarten, pretty much. It was so important to her to like, unlock that door for us because, for her, reading is a way of obtaining knowledge and bettering yourself….she really wanted us to be empowered in that sense. And then my dad, on the other hand, also a big reader, but he was super into comic books. So a lot of nights my bedtime stories were him reading to me from whatever comic book he was reading at the time. It was always really encouraged in my household, so I definitely give them all the credit for shaping that part of me.
Daviona Moore: So reading was empowerment, how did that lead to making it a career?
Nyasha Bryant: It just made so much sense one day to open a bookstore. I'm so passionate about stories that feature literal Black girl magic! My store is the kind of store I wish I had access to when I was a little girl. I think if I was 14 and I had discovered my bookshop, I would have been like ‘Oh my God this book’s about a Black girl who goes to another world’ or ‘This book’s about a girl who has this perfect romance.’ I really craved those stories when I was younger and they just weren't accessible at that point in time, but now they are!
The fact that stories now exist that represent Black women like myself and Nyasha is crucial, as Black experiences in literature are extremely limited and often misrepresented. When considering representation, it is important to think critically about the implications this conveys to a diverse audience. Studies show that poor or misrepresentation in the media can cause negative psychological outcomes for underrepresented communities. This Is important to the development of our social identities as children. As you can imagine, this leads to a myriad of disconnects in the mind of an underrepresented child.
When discussing femmes and women in any particular field, it is important to recognize the work that is being put in compared to the reward received for that work. Ultimately, women of color have historically been the cultural and moral anchors of their communities, resulting in society’s tendency to police women’s existences, whether through bodily autonomy or direct behavior control, in the name of protection. Nyasha discussed how such pervasive ideologies manifest in literature and her efforts to combat that.
Daviona Moore: I'm sure you get asked this a lot, but you could've chosen to specialize in authors of color in general. Why did you specialize further?
Nyasha Bryant: I definitely think that women and femmes in general are so unheard. When they are heard, they're often dismissed. I really wanted to have a space that allowed all of these different perspectives to exist, and exist in a positive space where they're not being ripped apart or dismissed or attacked or anything like that. There are not as many women in fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and thriller spaces, and there are definitely even less femmes of color in that space too. I wanted to prove...first of all, that they exist, they definitely are there, and there's more being written every day.
I think women as storytellers are often not treated well. When you look at the publishing industry and see how many femmes of color have been published, the numbers are abysmal, and they're even worse when you break it down into certain genres because they aren't thought of as capable. If they are, it's a matter of we can't find them or we don't think they exist. I think having a space where women and femmes are centered in a positive light and showcased in multiple perspectives, you see there's no one right perspective of womanhood or of being a femme. I wanted to have a space that I respected and was diverse.
Daviona Moore: We've seen a new emphasis on diversity in books lately, but I want to talk about the predominant narratives within that—stories about slavery or gang life, for instance. Do you see your bookshop as expanding the perceptions of a singular Black experience?
Nyasha Bryant: A lot of times, when we see diversity and inclusion in mainstream media and entertainment, it's very much centered around Black trauma instead of things like Black joy or Black magic, a whole spectrum to Blackness that isn't solely terrible. I love being Black! There's so many beautiful things about it!
When asked about her inspirations, it was a no-brainer. Growing up with a dad who’s a self-proclaimed nerd, Nyasha was able to note a facet of the Black experience through her dad’s comic books. She reflected on past nights in childhood where her dad would read fantastical tales from comic books until she fell asleep.
Another influential role model for Nyasha is politician Stacey Abrams, for her work both as a novelist and an activist. Nyasha expressed a deep respect for Abrams working to increase voter participation in recent elections. Unfortunately, she hasn’t been able to purchase a novel by Abrams as they are in very high demand—a good problem to have.
Looking ahead, we both share excitement for the future of Miss Read Books. Nyasha anticipates finding more great work by femmes of color from a variety of sources, such as the Black Girls Read Books, Too page on Facebook, California Independent Booksellers Alliance, and fans of the bookshop, who often reach out with their own recommendations. She strives to maintain her vision of an inclusive and representative bookshop for folks who have been consistently underrepresented.
Currently, Nyasha is holding a giveaway on the Miss Read Books Instagram page through February 8, 2021. Anyone is eligible to enter by following, liking posts, and commenting to make their name visible, and full details are available here.
And of course, keep an eye on the JCI blog for more interviews with notable figures for Black History Month!
All books featured in this article are available for purchase online at Miss Read Books.