Coming off the shelf: Queer Book Club binds community, change

Nestled in the halls of the O’Connell Building, the LGBTQIA+ student resource center hosts a more specialized community every Friday: the Queer Book Club. 

Using queer literature as the stepping stone for individual growth and community-building at DePaul, the club has become a safe space for any and all individuals to explore serious topics in a welcoming space. 

“There are various ways for book clubs and discussions to be led, but queer literature speaks to the unique experiences of the queer community,” said Black Cultural Center coordinator Ava Francis. “It’s really important to me that there is an opportunity for not just queer individuals to have access to these works, but for anyone who is interested or wants to learn more.”

The Queer Book Club has only been around for two quarters and was started by the previous LGBTQIA+ center coordinator Mycall Riley. Now, Francis and junior Sara Fenton co-lead, helping to lead discussions and run the logistics of the club.

“Before I ran bookclub, I wasn’t leading or co-leading any events, so this was a way to get more involved with the centers and for us to creatively utilize the space,” Fenton said. “It gave me a queer community of people who are willing to get into these intense discussions.”

They have only had the opportunity to read two books thus far due to their brief time on campus. Last quarter’s pick by the co-leaders was “Belly of the Beast” by Da’Shaun Harrison, which explores the intersectionality of anti-Blackness and anti-fatness.

The club is currently reading “Subject to Change” an anthological poetry book by various transgender writers. When choosing a poetry book, the co-leaders hoped to ease new members into the space without the formality of a non-fiction book.

“A lot of people don’t always understand that the authors behind these books are people too, the same as us,” said Queer Book Club member and senior Dominica Denuate. “Literature and history combined can help us understand that, and you get to learn about the situations that impact them today. If you can accept the past, you need to accept the present as well.”

With every book they choose and every discussion held, intersectionality is one of the club’s main focuses. Intersectionality is the concept that all systems of inequality and oppression are linked together. While focusing on books that explore the depth of identity in the queer community and how the issues they face are connected, Fenton hopes to incite change for the queer community on a more personal scale.

“Nobody is free until everyone is free, especially when the problems are so systemic,” Fenton said. “When we talk about intersectionality and build community in this way, I think it gives people some reassurance that they’re not alone. The more people we can have this discussion with, the more potential there is for change.”  

Building a community through the books that bring the club together is its ultimate goal. Using literature for internal reflection, members of the club are given the chance to openly discuss stigmatized or repressed topics in queer history. As members foster a sense of connection through this intimate setting and unified goal, they hope to turn the community they have built into a family.

“In the Queer Book Club, not only are you in a space with other people who either identity with you or are accepting of everything, its also just a place to make friends and find others who understand and can listen,” Denuate said. 

Both Fenton and Francis believe simply having a space where books are the focus helps educate people in a personal setting. The club boasts a smaller member count, allowing participants to feel comfortable sharing in the emotional and judgment-free space. Even when reflecting on the benefits of a smaller club size, Francis still looks forward to the possibility of seeing their numbers grow. Anyone is welcome to join, which will continue meeting through the end of October, every Friday from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. in room 305 of the O’Connell building. 

“As much as some of our topics are heavy, there is a sense of joy and gratefulness seeped into the space,” Francis said. “We want more people to know we have this safe space and to experience this with us.”