SEARCH for #ReadCaribbean on Instagram and almost 11,000 posts will appear as people share their favourite and latest reads by authors from the region and diaspora.
Caribbean literature continues to evolve, with emerging writers claiming awards, such as Jamaican author Marlon James who claimed the 2015 Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings, and Trinidad and Tobago-born Monique Roffey who won the Costa Book of the Year Award in 2020 for her novel The Mermaid of Black Conch.
Cindy Allman, a Jamaica-born Caribbean "bookstagrammer" based in TT, is the mind and effervescent energy behind the #ReadCaribbean campaign.
A bookstagrammer is an Instagram user who reads a lot and shares book reviews and recommendations on Instagram.
Allman, who has read 40-50 Caribbean books for the year so far, and over 1,700 in her life, told Newsday she saw an opportunity to acknowledge Caribbean literature, past and present, as is done in many spaces across the globe.
"June is celebrated as Caribbean-American Heritage Month. In the book space there are months where people have decided on months where we always celebrate something. So March is Middle-Grade March, where people read and discuss middle-grade books, April is African literature, May is Asian Pacific Islander, November is Non-Fiction November.
"So I thought, why isn't there a month where all we read is Caribbean literature?"
June was first recognised as Caribbean-American Heritage Month in 2006 by former US president George W Bush.
Allman said she did her research online and found while Caribbean Heritage Month is celebrated internationally, there was nothing in place to celebrate the literary work from the Caribbean and its diaspora.
Since June 2019, she has seen steady growth in the number of people gathering, first in person, then virtually, since the spread of covid19, to discuss specific literary works by writers from the Caribbean and the diaspora, which includes people of Caribbean descent or stories set in the Caribbean.
She highlighted several well-known writers whose Caribbean connections she said many people do not know. English-born Canadian journalist, author, and public speaker Malcolm Gladwell, who was recognised in 2005 as one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people, for example, is of Caribbean heritage. His mother is Jamaican-born psychotherapist and author Joyce Gladwell.
"So many people have been reading books by people connected to the Caribbean – they might just not know."
After #ReadCaribbean 2019 she said the Bookstagram space has seen exponential growth. Her following on her Instagram page @bookofcinz, where she hosts conversations with authors and other bookstagrammers, now stands at over 23,000 followers, with an equally steady increase in the level of interaction.
Allman said despite the covid19 pandemic, which felt to many like the beginning of a biblical apocalypse, she saw even greater interaction as more bookstagrammers emerged on social media and the community grew dramatically.
"I feel like from the first year we had about 400 posts with the hashtag, and by the end of 2020 we were up to about 8,000. With the pandemic, there were more people at home reading."
She said the existence of a community made it more of an experience for readers. That, coupled with the launch in 2019, saw more people preparing by reading Caribbean literature. This, she said, fuelled her excitement about this year's #ReadCaribbean.
With the events in the US such as the killing of George Floyd, the subsequent marches and the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement, Allman said many people became more interested in African American, African and Caribbean literature. Followers of the related sub-genres then saw further integration in their must-read lists.
#ReadCaribbean picked up more traction last year, too, after being featured by O Magazine.
"So much happened last year...we saw an increase in the number when BookTuber, YouTube bloggers who discuss books, started reviewing more books by Caribbean authors."
She also noticed an increase in the number of Caribbean books listed and being read and reviewed on international book-lovers' app Goodreads.
Allman said digital facilities like Instagram live, which hosted conversations and reviews with real-time interaction with viewers, also resulted in more growth.
"We did many lives and saw many Caribbean writers coming on board. There were interviews, Caribbean writers' panel discussions – and people were excited. We had giveaways, especially with the support from publishing houses such as Penguin Random House.
"This month, I want to ensure it's not just @bookofcinz being highlighted. So every Tuesday I will go live with Caribbean bookstagrammers from all over the region, (and) not only those in the Caribbean, but also in the diaspora."
The lineup of online events includes a panel on Sundays, one of which is entitled Caribbean Woman Writing Home. The conversation will include writers such as Stephanie Ramlogan and Alexia Arthurs talking about the experiences and creative process of authors who write Caribbean literature but do not live in the region.
"We will discuss topics like if they feel Caribbean enough to write about it. It will be exciting."
Other discussions will explore Caribbean folklore, new voices and emerging voices, with a diverse collection of authors and moderators.
Allman, an advertising and marketing professional, said her love for books goes as far back as she can remember, so much that her first job was at a bookstore.
"It was within the last three or four years that I started being more selective in what I read. I made an effort to read more Caribbean and black authors. I think that's when I decided to read more widely."
Asked how Caribbean literature affected how she views the region and herself, Allman said, "When we read Caribbean books, especially when we are from the Caribbean, we feel like we are reading about people we know, whether friends, family or neighbours. There are so many familiar themes, while opening our eyes to the features of culture on islands throughout the region that you won't find everywhere in the region.
"So Jamaica may seem very similar to Trinidad and Tobago, but there are things in each island's folklore that can teach each so much about the other. Reading Caribbean gives insight into history and culture."
Having read Caribbean literature from the past five decades, Allman said she is pleased to see where it's heading. She is pleased to have recorded, through books, how the Caribbean was, but also most profoundly how far the region has come. She enjoys seeing issues such as Venezuelan migration, love and sexuality, mental health and race being explored differently and more openly through contemporary Caribbean literature.
For more info on #ReadCaribbean visit bookofcinz.com or follow her @bookofcinz on Instagram.