Kendra Gayle Lee remembers the first time she read a book with an LGBTQ character who got to live “happily ever after.”
“It was the first book that I read where the lesbian didn’t have to die at the end,” Lee said, referring to Rita Mae Brown’s 1970s lesbian coming-of-age novel “Rubyfruit Jungle.” Lee continued: “It was so empowering for me to see that part of myself represented. As a white girl, I saw that part of myself, but I didn’t see the queer part of myself. When I did, it was like a whole new world.”
Lee owns Bookish, a bookstore in southeast Atlanta. She carefully curates her selection so customers can read stories that accurately reflect who they are, and introduce other customers to new narratives, one page at a time.
Inspired by helping students at her daughter’s school book fair fall in love with reading, she opened Bookish in September 2019.
“Helping [students] discover that they like to read when they’re reading about something they like was really motivating for me. I thought if I can help kids find books that they like to read, maybe adults aren’t reading as much as they could because they’re reading things they don’t really want to read.”
As the sole employee of Bookish, she helps her customers find the books they want to read, whether those are stories that show Black joy instead of Black trauma or that are educational.
“When you see a character in a book that is like you in some way, and they are being real about whatever is going on, you can begin to feel safer and more known. We all want to be known and we want to be safe. I think books help us do that more than adults are willing to admit sometimes.”
Lee created a Bookish reading challenge that guides readers to read books by a diverse selection of authors and topics. You can view the challenge and book list here.
For readers curious about the challenge, Lee suggested starting with “Homegoing” or “Transcendent Kingdom” by Yaa Gyasi, Gyasi was born in Ghana and grew up in Huntsville, Alabama.
“Transcendent Kingdom explores faith, science, addiction and growing up in the South. I found it brilliant and it made me deeply introspective,” she said.
For a read you can’t put down, she suggests “Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett and “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reed.