March is Women’s History Month, which is the perfect time to remember that every single one of us is part of women’s history. Not only are we a part of women’s history, but we matter to it. Rather than relegate these acknowledgements to one month out of the year, we need to find ways to celebrate them as part of every day life — which is exactly what Rachel Syme is doing.
Rachel, a popular and prolific writer in her own right, did that by founding a club known across social media as #WLClub. What is #WLClub? It’s a book club where anyone interested in participating can partake in reading a book each month that also happens to be the biography of a notable woman. February’s book was The Silent Woman a biography of Sylvia Plath, written by Janet Malcolm. For March the book of choice is Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston, by Valerie Boyd.
Rachel spoke with HelloGiggles about the founding of #WLClub: “I was on Twitter and I was wasting time (as one tends to do). I was writing about paying attention to women’s lives in general, and really casually in a tweet storm, I asked if I were to start a monthly book club about women’s lives, would anyone do it.” That tweet met with instant and widespread attention with responses coming from all over the continental U.S. to as far abroad as Tel Aviv. Rachel took it as a sign and got to work, starting the club and eventually a Google group for interested people to have an easily accessible place to join. As for how the books get chosen, everyone makes suggestions and Rachel puts the ones that are repeatedly named up to a vote, which was how The Silent Woman and Wrapped in Rainbows became February and March’s respective picks.
The excitement surrounding the club is beyond anything Rachel anticipated and she is thrilled about the response. Not only are IRL smaller groups springing up all over and friendships blooming among participants, but members are tweeting selfies with the book, purchasing other works by the authors, and even composing essay length responses to convey their feelings about the group.
As for why Rachel thinks the idea caught on with such rampant interest, she says: “I believe there are all these women’s stories that aren’t told, that were subject to erasure, and so many things have been told through a male perspective which by and large eliminates women. Many people don’t have a reason to pick up these books, but to be able to see something of yourself in these other women, that’s IRL inspiration. I think that’s why this somehow struck a chord or hit a release valve with people. I also don’t think people read these books enough.”
Participants of #WLClub totally agree. Meagan Morrow, who has scheduled a meet-up for readers in Portland Oregon, said, “One of the main reasons I wanted to join was the idea of having this community with smart women (and some men) and being able to share our ideas and insight with each other.” Rachel Hock, another member, shared that she is a, “huge fan of Rachel Syme’s work, so any club she’s starting is something I want to be a part of. Secondly, I want to up my non-fiction game this year and didn’t really know where to start so it’s great to have some structure. And thirdly, and perhaps most the most compelling reason I wanted to get involved, was the opportunity to connect with a ton of other women and discuss women’s lives.” All of this proves Syme’s theory that, “if you have a community allowing you to go down a rabbit hole as far as you wanna go, other people will go with you.”
The structured part of the group is scheduled discussions for sections of the book, but it’s overall loosely regimented with people contributing at their own time. Moving forward there are plans to slate some pre-arranged online events: possibly a webinar or live chat with the author of Zora’s bio, as well as some different ways for readers to have back and forth conversations. A fun aspect, Rachel notes, is that some members of #WLClub even have books of their own coming out this year that might end up as a monthly pick. “What better way to support a woman releasing a new biography than to include it?” We couldn’t agree more.
So what is #WLClub all about? “Women’s lives: learning about them, spreading the word. Giving a sense of community, a sense of rigorous intellectual discussion about books,” Rachel says. That is certainly something we can do year round.