Shaylon Scott is the Founder of Book Mecca — a platform for black authors. Her writing has been published in The Dallas Morning News. The writer has a background in public speaking, and has a heart for promoting black voices. And now, she has taken a step further in advocating for black literature by creating the Pass the Voice Initiative. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Shaylon about her career in writing and her passion for promoting black literature:
Tell us about Book Mecca? What inspired you to create it? How have you seen it grow?
Book Mecca is an online bookstore and platform highlighting black authors, and their literature from across the African diaspora. I am an avid reader and mother of two beautiful young queens that developed a love of reading despite reading challenges, and access to the authors and types of stories that reflected their lives. When we sought books by their favorite authors, we were met with either a lack of availability or such apathy by the merchants to bring more stories to the shelves; and these were New York Times best-selling books! That alone inspired me to provide a way for my children and others like them to never have to settle for what is available or only expect to see stories with their faces in excess during Black History Month. Hence, Book Mecca was born. Book Mecca has grown from merely an idea in early December 2019 of a curated source for black books; to a bookstore; to truly a movement that encourages reading and exploring more about the authors, their stories and their voices.
As a writer with diverse skills, which skills have helped you further your career in literature?
Writing and public speaking have always been an outlet and way for me to have my voice heard. I often found it easier to write out an idea or emotion before I could ever speak it. It’s helped me to develop speeches for a variety of audiences and to organize not only my thoughts, but my career path and goals. My thoughts race just as quickly as my fingers type, and I’m just now teaching my voice to keep up. Whether it is poetry, prose, speeches, blogging, etc., every time I write I feel a sense of relief — as if my thought is no longer trapped in my throat. No one should ever feel as if their voice is silent or stifled, and writing has helped me to overcome that feeling.
Right now, there is a significant call for black voices. Why do you think black voices and black literature are so important and needed?
Now more than ever our voices need to be heard and amplified. For so long, we allowed others to tell our history, good or bad, and we even allowed them to tell our futures and fantasies. No one questioned who was behind the narrative, and we couldn’t figure out why the characters’ voices didn’t match. It was simply because we were losing our voice. When we tell our stories, develop our characters, and write our novels, we are doing so from experience, generational memory and a sense of culture. We aren’t simply reciting facts or providing a narrative that makes sense. We are telling the past, present, and future of our lineage and only we can do that. People ask me, “Why are you focusing on black authors, why not people of color?” I simply answer, “Because I am black.” I want to hear from all my melanin family and know all the variations of our history. Our stories are not monolithic, so I’ll never run out of black authors and stories to explore.
When did you discover your passion for writing? Who are your influences and favorite writers?
I discovered a passion for writing in my high school English class with Mr. Cogburn. He was a fiery teacher that always answered a question with a question. He pushed me to examine all types of literature, even if the cover was unappealing and to constantly check my writing for authenticity. I’m a reader and music lover so I often read and listen to music at the same time. James Baldwin and Nina Simone are my biggest influences in writing. Baldwin had a way of writing that still transcends time and pierces the heart of anyone reading it. Nina’s voice was one that broughtchills, but it was her words that inspired me. I often read her lyrics as poems and recited her commentary as essays. Both are huge influences in my life, and you’ll often see them reflected throughout Book Mecca’s content.
For black writers who want to create organizations for black literature, what advice would you give them?
Go for it! We need to saturate the market so much with our melanin, that it’s normal to see our novels. We need to be so in demand, that there’s no longer an African American section or Black History section in a library or bookstore, but we are everywhere. Stay authentic and honest with your audience. They often know your motives behind your work even before you tell them. Another bit of advice I’d give to all writers is to learn the craft of writing. It’s not enough to simply have a good story. A reader needs to be able to enjoy the work without critiquing the language, flow or spelling, and simply calling it character vernacular is not enough. Writing can be natural, but literary magic takes time.
You are also the Founder of the Pass the Voice Initiative? Tell us about the organization and its current collaborations?
The Pass the Voice Initiative is a local effort to bring black literature into the hands of future readers, wherever there are. With the establishment of free little libraries in high-traffic businesses frequented by African American families. They will have access to great literature and provide an opportunity to consistently give back to the community. We are bringing our stories closer to home, promoting literacy and encouraging more black parents to become cognizant of the authors and stories they are reading with their children. Book Mecca & Young Black Entrepreneurs (YBE) have joined forces to promote, and encourage literacy in the African American communities of North Texas with the goal of expanding in the near future. Young Black Entrepreneurs (YBE) is a community effort dedicated to assist, promote and encourage positive lifestyles and interactions among Young Black Entrepreneurs and the African American Community.
Where can we support and find more information on the Pass the Voice Initiative?
There are many ways to support the Pass the Voice Initiative. You can share information with friends and family on social media, email, word of mouth, etc. We are accepting donations to cover the initial costs of building the little libraries and providing literature for the initial set up. If you are unable to donate, you are welcome to support this effort by sharing our information; serving as a host site for a future little library; serving as a Book Mecca librarian to maintain the inventory of a specific location; provide donated materials to build more libraries; and volunteering to host a book drive for black authored books.
What’s next for you in literature and regarding your organizations?
As Book Mecca grows, we will continue to provide a platform to showcase powerful authors and their work. Each month we will focus on a selected author for our Facebook Live interview series – “Between the Lines.” We will also expand our virtual and in person (post Covid) lit-themed events, so please stay tuned for book pairings, new author previews, music matches and more. As for my literature, I’ll continue to write poetry, freelance, and work towards publishing one of my personal pieces. Until then, I’ll continue to advocate for my fellow black bibliophiles’ work.
Where can we follow and support your journey in literature?
You can contact and/or follow Shaylon Scott and Book Mecca on Facebook; Instagram @book.mecca and by email at [email protected]. We encourage you to share, follow, and engage in a movement to bring black literature and their authors into the limelight.