Activism Through Reading: Gabby Womack '17MA, '17MS Founds Bookish AfroLatina
My inspiration for Bookish AfroLatina is the same as what inspired me to become a historian and information professional: a desire to find and share information about people who have been minoritized and/or underrepresented in most aspects of American life.
Why did you choose to attend Simmons for a dual masters in archives management and history?
There were a few reasons why I chose Simmons for the dual degree program. For one, I needed to find an accredited institution within eastern Massachusetts since I didn’t have the financial freedom to move and live independently.
When I was looking for grad school programs, my undergraduate advisor at Suffolk University suggested that I speak to professionals in the fields I believed I was interested in to gain some insight. She connected me with the librarians at the Massachusetts State House, both in special collections and the library as a whole, and with the Suffolk University archivist. Most of the librarians I met told me that they went to Simmons. I thought that it would be a good idea to look into a program that had successful graduates and a lot of connections to help me along the way.
The deciding factor, in the end, was that Simmons was the only institution in the area that offered a dual degree archives management and history program. Others just offered a certificate program. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when I spoke to information professionals on hiring, they stated they preferred applicants with the degree. I was very strategic about all of it.
In your experience, what was the best feature of the program?
I think the program's best feature, aside from connecting with some amazing peers, was having multiple opportunities for behind-the-scenes visits and internships. While I do alright with studying theory, hands-on work is what excites me in librarianship, archives, and history. So getting the chance to learn about preservation through a class visit to the Massachusetts Historical Society was illuminating.
I also interned at some really awesome institutions like the Harvard Film Archives, John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, and Cambridge Public Library’s Cambridge Room. Each opportunity helped me build up my skills and resume. I got a chance to really dive into archival work like removing old staples, writing finding aids, and using programs like ArchivesSpace. It was also a lot of fun learning about the people who’s papers/items I was archiving through research and their materials.
I think the program's best feature, aside from connecting with some amazing peers, was having multiple opportunities for behind-the-scenes visits and internships.
Tell us about the inspiration behind Bookish AfroLatina.
There’s a long-ish story behind Bookish AfroLatina. I started the Instagram page at the very end of January 2021, and it has taken off from there! I now have almost 3K followers, which is a lot to me because I post a lot of book reviews, and people are always talking about how no one reads books anymore. I’ve also created pages on Facebook and TikTok.
My inspiration for Bookish AfroLatina is the same as what inspired me to become a historian and information professional: a desire to find and share information about people who have been minoritized and/or underrepresented in most aspects of American life. I remember sitting in my undergraduate history courses thinking, “why didn’t anyone teach us this before?” and realizing that there was so much more to every story I thought I knew.
For over a year, after I graduated from Simmons, I dreamed of starting my own YouTube channel where I could share these stories, but it seemed like there were a lot of things holding me back. I thought that maybe it was a mixture of imposter syndrome and fear of being attacked by white supremacists as I had been in the past and had seen many other Black historians experience. As I reflected in my article, "Getting Rid of Imposter Syndrome and Finding My Worth," I came to realize that I was always worthy — I was just made to feel otherwise through the oppression that my family and I have faced over many years.
This realization hit me just after my maternal grandfather passed away and my household contracted COVID-19. My maternal grandmother had passed away the year before, and with the grief of those losses also came a reevaluation of my life. I’d spent much of 2020 swiping through bookish posts on Instagram and wishing I could do something like that.
Finally, I told myself to just do it. I took the leap, and I’m so happy that I did. It started as a place to share some book recommendations and my current reads, then developed into a platform for activism through diverse reading. Not only am I sharing knowledge, but I’m also showing representation as a Black Latina librarian, archivist, and historian who is bisexual and chronically ill (it’s a lot, I know). Because of my posts, people have messaged me to learn more about librarianship and library school.
What do you find most rewarding about this work?
I find it extremely rewarding when folx message me or comment on my posts to let me know that my recommendation was just what they needed. This platform also provided me with a sense of belonging and community during what ended up being another isolating year for me.
Since about February/March, I have dealt with long COVID symptoms, which have progressed throughout the year. Due to these symptoms, I have been unable to be as social as I’d like and have to work from home. Bookish AfroLatina is a platform that helps me continue connecting with other book lovers so that I don’t feel so alone.
I find it extremely rewarding when folx message me or comment on my posts to let me know that my recommendation was just what they needed.
How have the lessons learned at Simmons translated to what you're doing now?
At Simmons, I learned how to speak up for myself and others. I was a part of the original leadership board of Students of Color at SLIS (SoCS) led by Araceli Hintermeister in 2015. Through that group and friends I made in the program, I learned about radical librarianship, activism, and solidarity. I’m still inspired by the work we did together and the initiatives my friends took, like organizing DERAIL (Diversity, Equity, Race, Accessibility, and Identity in LIS). All of this has encouraged me to always continue learning about more ways to be inclusive.
I’m also extremely grateful for my courses with professors Sarah Leonard and Laura Prieto. These professors taught me how to decolonize my understanding of history, make it interesting, and how to write about it. I’ve used their lessons and advice too many times to count!
What are your favorite books you read in the last year?
Oof! I’ve read over 135 books this year (a record for me), so this is very hard! I’m gonna go with a top 10, starting with my most recent read:
- Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
- Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
- Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe
- Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko
- Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa
- Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
- Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
- Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo
- Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
- Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution by Susan Stryker