Mostly Lit Podcast: re-narrating literature for the Black community
Our journey in literature is often tethered to the curriculum offered in school, and generally as African and Black students, we don’t find ourselves in these stories. Reckless Rai, Alex Reads, and Derek Wiltshire’s podcast Mostly Lit serves to break that barrier of disconnect by promoting the connections between literature and Black culture. Ayiba’s Beza Fekade discussed with the creators their motives, ideas, and ideal outcomes of their project. They remind each of us that it’s never too late to find ourselves in literature; Mostly Lit provides the outlet to unveil what literature can and should mean for us.
We’ve found ourselves in a new age of social media where pop culture reigns supreme. How have you three been able to successfully integrate literature and Black culture to an audience?
AR: We are a part of Black culture – whatever that is – and so we bring all of that to the table. I felt like literature in its purest form shouldn’t be separated from Black culture. Why should you think “white” when you think about literature, when there are so many amazing books and stories written by a multitude of races? Black people are a part of “culture” and apparent “blackness” so bringing them to table was easy—just be ourselves.
What were your intentions behind creating this podcast?
RR: I’ve always been under the impression that the more you read the better you are at critical thinking, reasoning, and understanding. Moreover, reading encourages empathy. It allows you to understand the lives of others. We just become better when we read.
How important was it for you all to make literature important again, especially for black youth?
DW: I can’t even express how important it is to me. As cliché as it sounds, literature changed my life, my perspective, my behaviour. And I can see it doing the same for young black boys who feel lost in this current world that seems not to care for them. I want to offer them this gift and, in a sense, save their lives. If I could give every black boy a copy of Mama Can’t Raise No Man by Robyn Travis I would.
AR: That’s very much Derek’s calling. But I really want to work on literacy in black children—especially boys. It shouldn’t be such an out-of-reach hobby for them. So many can articulate themselves so well—we see it in grime and hip hop culture all the time. Imagine if they read often growing up?
RR: I think it’s such a shame that black youth do not see themselves embodied in certain literatures that are pushed down their throats in secondary school. I think I have always loved the classics and didn’t really think there was a problem until I found myself reading postcolonial literature at uni and saw myself confronted with women like me, who thought like me. I didn’t see something was lacking until I was introduced to it. As such, I think it is of the utmost importance that black children find representations of themselves in books so they can enjoy reading and as such, think even better.
What’s the creative process like? How is it decided to use or discuss certain books in order to relate to current times?
DW: Boy, we usually just bounce ideas off each other until we find an idea that feels right. One person will pitch this, and we’ll shoot it down, another will pitch then and it resonates and has a lot of relevance.
When did the Mostly Lit Live start? Why was it important to bring this virtual community to life?
AR: I had always wanted to do a live show from the day I conceived the idea, but it had to be the right time. When we started getting a following and the discussions heated up, we kept getting asked, “I want to know what you are all like in person.” Give the people what they want, I say.
How often do you include difficult issues going on in the black community?
RR: I think with every issue we touch on difficult topics within the black community. Be it discussing why black boys don’t read, the displacement most millennial diasporans feel, why black literature needs it’s own separate label to just “literature,” why we do not have black people in publishing to why black British authors are not getting published at the same volume as their counterparts. It’s a lot.
How has each of your differing backgrounds and perspectives influenced Mostly Lit?
DW: I think it’s influenced the way we approach a book. The way we look at characters and their motivations and actions. These different perspectives create the friendly tension and chemistry between us. We’re eager to hear what the other has to say but also eager to shoot it down.
AR: It’s also opened us up to empathy and understanding about each other and other people.
RR: I think I love that we can never agree on a book. I have a love for various types of narratives, each with a different perspective. I love that we have a different lens of viewing stories but the same vigour and passion when discussing them. What I have enjoyed the most is learning from the boys. I find myself thinking how the boys would view something in addition to my own opinion which adds onto the layers a book can have. It is quite a wonderful thing.
What are some future goals for this podcast? How do you see this brand growing?
DW: Doing more live shows
AR: I really want a Mostly Lit t-shirts and a hat that says Alex Reads on it. That would be cool.
RR: World Tour baby. I am talking the whole world not just the US and Europe. I wouldn’t mind being responsible for changing school curriculums also.
What is a book you’ve read recently that you think captures the times we are living in succinctly?
DW: Robyn Travis’ Mama Can’t Raise No Man. It’s a book that we’ve needed for a long time. A book that young black boys have needed. This is my reality.
AR: The Lonely Londoners. We are struggling in this bustling city and only turn to social media to “meet” people. It’s lonely, especially as a black millennial.
RR: Americanah. Race. Black women. The corrupt USA. The whole moving back to the motherland. It had everything that provided amazing commentary on the issues young black women face today and the general African diaspora.
Sometimes blackness can be depicted as one thing or representing one type of image. How do you think Mostly Lit has added to create a different black perspective?
RR: Mostly Lit just has so many layers that it is impossible to pigeonhole us into certain boxes. We definitely transcend labels of how black people should be. Yes we can be “ratchet” as some put it but we can be intellectual as others have said and discuss Hegel and Lacan. We even mix it up and be ratchet with Kant but intellectual with the latest Twitter debate. We just perfectly show how well we are at being ourselves. Unapologetically.
Ayiba is predicated on sharing African stories, what African literature have you all included or will include for your podcast?
DW: Things Fall Apart
AR: Nervous Conditions
RR: The Fishermen
How important is it to share stories and books from varying African countries as opposed to American and European literature that dominates our reading curriculum growing up?
RR: Incredibly important. Stories enable us to learn about ourselves. Caucasian literature (yes, I called it that) has provided a foundation for the western world to know of itself. When you rob a people of knowing themselves, their history, their story, it can have a calamitous effect on their future. As we clearly see. Whilst many look to economics and the professions to reach success, reading, writing, and other various arts are responsible for thought, a retelling of a shared experience, it molds a communal spirit and a sense of belonging that cannot be replicated. African literature, shared amongst its people, can be a useful and a powerful weapon to unite African people and the diaspora. Thus truly creating a united group.
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