An Interview with Dope Readers Club

by Morgan Cormack, Deputy Reviews Editor

My first introduction to Dope Readers Club came in the form of a reshared Instagram post of Que, the founder, standing proudly beside his first community bookcase project. With books donated by Quercus Books and Yellow Kite Books, it’s no mean feat to get 110 books into a busy London station like Kensal Rise, but Que remains humble. “It took a month to do,” he explains, “I saw it, wanted to do it, did it, it worked out. Now, what’s next?”

Creating a community of book lovers with regular reading lists, book club events and more, Que’s go-getter attitude is undeniable. As we speak on the phone, he talks to me about taking walks, reading to his plants and getting back to nature as major points of inspiration for his upcoming projects. How did Dope Readers Club all begin though? “Honestly, I think I slept on the idea for a long time – two and a half years to be exact – then one day, I just woke up with it on my mind and knew I should do it.” He tells me how he’s always been that friend that people go to for book recommendations. “I love to regurgitate information and have conversations about it with the people around me so I thought, why not post it online?” He speaks fondly of his friends Kat, who helped him decide on the name, and Nierodha who helped the vision of Dope Readers come to life with quality imagery and content. Though the pandemic put a spanner into the works of many people’s plans, it seemed to work to Que’s benefit. Lockdown meant many events were cancelled so he had more time to dedicate to it all, “It’s all crazy because it’s a passion project that became even more than that. It’s just in me innately to give out books and recommend them.” I like that idea, books being “in me innately” and he expands, “I just want to start the conversation, spark people’s minds.” He paraphrases a 2Pac quote and explains how “I may not be the one to change the world but I want to be the one that sparks the person that does.”

The mission of Dope Readers Club is simple: to encourage reading and conversation. We talk about the similar outlooks that Bad Form and Dope Readers share in platforming great literature. Que explains though that as much as Dope Readers is for everyone, it’s also an important place for him to learn. He underlines something I regularly contemplate; the idea of sharing knowledge versus keeping it to one’s self. I bring up the resurgence of Black Lives Matter this year and the important conversations that felt dominant at the start of the year and have since, rather predictably, vanished from many people’s dialogues. “All conversations are important to me”, Que explains, “but with Black Lives Matter, something that’s really important is also educating Black people on Black matters and history too.” When I ask him what book he’s read recently that has helped in this, he cites Reni Eddo Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. “Everyone talks about it but I just recently read it”, he admits. “It taught me a lot about Britain because until that, my learning was always about the United States. It made me realise I didn’t know anything about Britain, our history, our ports, everything. Once you have that knowledge, you can’t un-know it.” Whilst Dope Readers publicises literature written by all, Que states there’s an obligation to sharing knowledge around these matters. “Understanding your past is power. Understanding your roots and your whereabouts holds so much power that will help us transform and move forward,” he states. We talk about the lack of teaching around Black British history and can only laugh about the misunderstandings many have regarding literature written by Black authors: that Black authors don’t just write about slavery or civil rights. Immediately, Que mentions Octavia Butler. “She has some of the greatest sci-fi books ever but just in general, we [Black people] have so many great ideas and books out there”.

As well as Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, I ask Que what other recently read book has resonated with him in a similar way. He quickly mentions Bernadine Evaristo and the Booker Prize winning Girl, Woman, Other. “I feel like I just learnt so much from that book. As a man reading it, I was like ‘wow’ for most of it,” I too was under an identical spell with Evaristo’s writing but ask him to explain a little further. “It’s like, the issues in the world are universal and of course nobody is exempt from that but women have it hard.” It was actually this book in particular that provided a turning point in Que’s appreciation of fiction. Being a big fan of non-fiction means he’s only really gotten into reading fiction in the last month or so. My surprise is obvious but after talking about the learning he’s done from non-fiction books on topical issues, self-help and spirituality, I get it. The lessons to be learned in non-fiction are forthright, but in fiction can often be hidden. “I’ve just started reading The Street by Ann Petry though,” he goes on, “it was written a long time ago but is teaching me a lot about single motherhood.”

Learning is paramount to Que’s mission for Dope Readers Club, it’s clear. That’s why he tries to survey the location of where he puts a bookcase, to make sure the books are going to be beneficial for those passing through. With Kensal Rise, he noticed a lot of younger people and young professionals, so he requested books on business, wellness and fiction from the involved publishers. Que adds: “Learning is endless. I love the fact that we can learn from elders and their experiences through their books, it really makes me happy.” He speaks fondly of his belief in mentors and whilst some of the world’s greatest thinkers may be dead, their words living on in their writing. He explains how “These are the people who helped to change and form the world. It’s imperative that we understand what happened then in order to try and plan for what happens next.”

I ask if he thinks books are still a viable medium of education, especially in an age that favours colourful infographics and shareable posts on social media. His answer is mixed; books are still an important education source, but a lot of people will always choose social media, he says. He recognises that people generally look at social media first but with books, “I think a lot of people just think of all the time it’ll take to read. So much time to allocate, so much time to get through it. I think that’s where Dope Readers Instagram comes in, that’s what I hope for anyway.” In a time where social media is a central news source for many, Que proudly proclaims that he doesn’t think print is dead. “Our bookcases are integral to the mission of Dope Readers,” he explains, “I like to describe them as portals because they’re all about sharing knowledge.” His descriptions of passing round books and community are evident in everything that Dope Readers Club does; from their book club to their #DopeDistribution book pick-up service and Que’s international plans for accessible bookcases. Whilst it’s clear we’re both avid book-lovers, there’s no denial of the diminished attention spans many of us on social media fall victim to. Que rightfully points out that books require discipline and the fact that some will always favour scrolling than reading. He talks about being able to reach new audiences, young and old, with the power of social media. “I hope people will see a post on our social media and actually stop and think of picking up that book.”

So what does the future look like for Dope Readers Club then? As well as publishing monthly reading lists and reading more himself, he says he just wants to represent really great literature. “There’s a lot of underrepresented writers that don’t have people behind them, we want to platform those books too.” Que speaks of plans to expand his bookcases to all points of London as well as future hopes of opening a bookshop or something similar; a place where “people can just come together” over their love of literature. It’s a plan I’m very easily excited by. In times like these, most conversations end with some mention of the state of the world so we finish by talking about our creative outlets during the pandemic. Expecting mention of writing or some other pastime, Que talks about walking and his plants again. For some reason, the answer he rests on surprises me: “Well, reading is my outlet.” Even after reading many books, I’d never stopped to think of reading as, well, restorative – but of course it is. Simply put, reading and learning are the things we should all strive to do a little more of each day and that is exactly what Dope Readers Club is all about.

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The print and digital literary review by Black, Asian, and racialised community writers.