Mamu woman Lauren Appo has created Books and Yarns, an Instagram book club dedicated to celebrating Blak excellence in the literature world.
Hailing from Far North Queensland, the mother of two has strong ties to Goreng Goreng Country on her grandfather’s side and has called Meanjin/Brisbane home since high school.
“I’ve been living in Meanjin for a good chunk of my life and so have strong links here. My kids have had their smoking ceremony here, so we’ve got a really strong connection to the Meanjin,” she said.
“But I’ll always call Far North Queensland my home.”
A reader from early in her life, Appo has found comfort and support in the pages of books throughout her life.
“I was a huge reader when I was younger. In primary school I would devour books and I got to high school then it sort of faded off. I read the classic young adult books like you know Harry Potter and those are the things but I wasn’t really reading for purpose,” she said.
“That quietness that you have when you read was lacking so I really took some time to sit down and pick up books that I really enjoyed and things that I wanted to learn about.
“Reading has played a part in my life in all different aspects. When I needed different things from reading, it was there, it grew with me.”
Despite her love for literature, Appo struggled to find herself represented in narratives.
“One of the things that was lacking though was I really didn’t see myself in the books that I’ve read,” she said.
“A lot of the things that I was reading were really negative or perpetuated a stereotype. I didn’t want to keep giving attention to that narrative and I [sought] out books that I thought represented me — I would post books that I read on my Instagram and Facebook.
“I found that so many people, mostly Indigenous women, would ask me about the books that I read or ask for recommendations. That’s really how [Books and Yarns] came to be.”
Some of her all-time favourite titles include Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing, Anita Heiss’ anthology Growing up Aboriginal in Australia and Dr Aileen Moreton-Robinson’s Talkin’ Up to the White Woman.
Starting her page Books and Yarns early this year, Appo’s journey began by wanting to provide stories which showed her children their power.
“Having kids myself, I’m trying to cut that part of not seeing myself in books out and giving my kids every book that represents them. They have so many books that are just all Indigenous-led and all Indigenous written,” she said.
“The book My Home, My Heartbeat by Briggs, my son can see himself in it. There’s a picture of a painted up a little boy and there is a photo from his smoking ceremony where he got painted up and so whenever he reads that book — he sees himself.
“It is the notion that we are worth it. These kids need those books to know that their lives are worth writing about.”
Appo believes that literature is just another branch of storytelling for mob.
“We have always been storytellers and we’ve always adapted to our surroundings and that is what we have done. We have just taken literature, or we’ve taken the written word and just sort of run with it,” she said.
“Now we’ve got all of these authors, poets, people who are telling stories, and they’re all available to us but sometimes they don’t get the promotion that they deserve and so that’s kind of why I started my page.”
With the growing love of Blak literature, more and more Blak-owned book club Instagram pages are popping up — and adding to a network of love and support.
Appo has found sisterhood in the Instagram community, including Blackfulla Bookclub’s Merinda Dutton and Teela Reid.
“It’s really about promotion of our voice. We understand that Blak women’s voices have been kept silent for a really long time and oppressed, and now it’s undeniably one of the voices that are driving our social change and our social impact,” she said.
“I leave learnt that people are craving, these types of books. Once you get it, get it out there, people are consuming it, they’re buying it, sharing it, they want it. People want to be a part of it.
“Books have a really great power of connecting us to each other and showing us that the possibilities are bigger than our own.”
By Rachael Knowles