Christiansburg attorney Oneida Huntington has started an LGBTQ book club through the Southwest Virginia LGBT Memorial Library. The library houses, cares for, and lends books on LGBTQ+ subjects at the Roanoke Diversity Center. Gathering to discuss some those books just makes sense. But indeed, nothing happens without someone to lead the effort, organize folks, do the work behind the scenes.
The group has met once and City Builder Oneida Huntington warmly welcomes more participants. She gave BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke some background on the group.
BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke: What are your goals for the LGBTQ+ book club?
Oneida Huntington: I started the book club to facilitate discussion about LGBTQ+ books and experiences in a non-academic setting. There are frustratingly few outlets for non-students to meet and discuss similar issues in a casual way and a book
club felt like the perfect way to accomplish that.
BCR: I agree! How did the first discussion go?
OH: The first discussion was a success. The five people who attended actively participated and had contrasting experiences reading the book; everyone had something different to add. The first book the group discussed was Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming her Way Home by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.
BCR: What did you learn hosting the first meeting?
OH: Book discussions can guide themselves organically, but there is something to be said for putting in a little research and legwork when you lack that discussion confidence. That the elephant in the room can be a characteristic or experience that the readers do not possess, even if that’s a major component of the book. That discussing the motivation of an author can carry just as much weight as the content.
BCR: Who’s welcome in the book club?
OH: Anyone who is supportive of the LGBTQ+ community who has read the book (or hasn’t, but wants to soak in the chance to be in a room full of like-minded people). There’s always an unspoken balance of having too many allies at LGBTQ+ events & risking the LGBTQ+ attendees becoming the minorities instead of the majority. I do not foresee that being a problem in this bookclub given its heavy association with the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project and the LGBT Memorial Library.
BCR: That awareness and support of allies is important. And even within the LGBTQ+ community, we can better understand each other and be each others’ allies. How do you see reading as a way to strengthen empathy?
OH: Reading allows insight into an unlimited number of perspectives. One of the benefits of the book club is getting to build on what you’ve read even further from other people’s processing and experience with the same material.
BCR: You’ve moved away from the Roanoke area and then returned. How do you describe the region?
OH: Southwest Virginia is growing in a really wonderful way. One thing that consistently surprises me about the area is just how dang nice everyone is. When I moved back after living in baltimore for three years, I was shocked by how slow every line was… people take the time to ask about your day, and genuinely care about your answers to questions, even when they have different positions.
BCR: What are some of your favorite books?
OH: The Stand by Stephen King is one of the greatest epics of all time. It’s the ultimate good and evil story. The characters grow, the deaths shock, the supernatural is accessible.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Maya Angelou was a powerhouse of resilience and growth. When I first read her memoirs as a preteen, I felt that if she could lead the life she has, I too, could do anything in the world.
Lately I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels & comics, something I probably wouldn’t have touched 5 years ago. I’m consistently shocked by the quality of queer representation available through many of these. There are well written characters who don’t serve as a token or an afterthought, just part of their daily life. [And here’s a shoutout to Saga, Heavy Vinyl, Beauty, & Snotgirl.]
BCR: Thanks for your effort pulling this book club together, Oneida. One final question: what book will the club read next?
OH: Boys of Fairy Town: Sodomites, Female Impersonators, Third-Sexers, Pansies, Queers, and Sex Morons in Chicago’s First Century by Jim Elledge.
Boys of Fairy Town is a history of gay Chicago neighborhoods told through the stories of queer men in the Second City. The LGBTQ book club will discuss the book on Sunday, April 28, at 4 PM at the Roanoke Diversity Center (806 Jamison St. SE, Door D).
Want more information on the book club? Use the contact form below.