Jherane Patmore: RWL book club re-imagining community, literature and discourse

Sade Gardner

April 13, 2022

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THE DISTINGUISHED — ARTS AND CULTURE

The main character is Jherane Patmore, the setting is her birthday in 2017, and the plot develops with a desire to chill with her friends, drink some beer and talk about Audre Lorde’s I Am Your Sister. These surface story elements explain how Patmore’s Rebel Women Lit (RWL) book club came to be, but its purpose quickly deepened.

The bibliotherapy community, comprising members in and beyond Jamaica, has a mission to “re-imagine the world we live in”, a world Patmore fathoms with people more empathetic, brave, and open to conversations.

“We’ve become politically siloed, and, unfortunately, the number of spaces for people to engage with intellectual thought, to help bridge this gap, is shrinking,” she told Flair. “We’re hoping RWL, and others like RWL, can help bridge that gap, but a lot of it starts with people feeling more courageous and curious about their own development. Nothing thrills me more than hearing from book club members that a book we’ve read inspired them to take action in their communities, on the boards they sit, or even in their own families and relationships.”

While not a writer, her affinity for reading and literature is longstanding. She has always enjoyed the escapism, and power storytelling holds, and the process of “getting close to characters from other time periods and worlds”, adding that literature provided a sort of intimacy she didn’t experience with other storytelling forms. Patmore was that child who was reading fantasy novels by Robert Jordan and the teenager who stood out at the Calabash Literary Festival. Yet, she said she never fathomed a career in this field. Once a guest to other book clubs, Patmore saw RWL as a way to fill the gap she saw in local queer and feminist communities.

“Literature has always been a playground I could use to experiment with new ideas and deepen my empathy for others, and I thought it would be a great medium to connect people in these communities and those who allied with them,” she said.
The name ‘Rebel Women Lit’ was inspired by a book written by Jamaican ambassador Dr Lucille Mathurin Mair, adding ‘Lit’ as a double entendre for literature and, well, a dope community.

“At first, the members and focus of the book club was on women and their stories. We’ve since expanded to include other perspectives, but we [kept] the name because our centre will always be from a black feminist perspective,” Patmore added.
On the matter of expansion, RWL has spread its wings in a short space of time with a blog, podcast, literary magazine, author verandah chats, yoga and wellness sessions, and varied events. They also have an online book club every first Sunday of each month and online yoga sessions on the second Sunday of each month.

“With the COVID restrictions lifting, we’re also doing quarterly bibliotherapy retreats into nature where you can meet other members and enjoy a day at the beach swimming and enthralled in great discussions,” Patmore said.
They launched the Caribbean Readers’ Awards in 2020, another awe-inspiring venture which came from their community’s desire to celebrate Caribbean contemporary writers.

“At the moment, most literary awards are judged by writers or academics, and while those are completely valid, we wanted to create one where readers were declaring their favourites. The response has been overwhelmingly positive in our online spaces, with readers, writers, and publishers all getting involved in the fun of a people’s choice [awards] ceremony. Hopefully, someday we can collaborate with existing regional festivals to showcase the winners,” she said.

RWL is also involved in community outreach through their islandwide free library, and revamping the home library at Mary’s Child Home. The project for the latter has been stalled because of the pandemic, but, with the lifted COVID-19 restrictions, they are gearing up to resume with the aid of cash donations and grants.
As for the future, “I’d like us to go deeper with our various projects and build a sustainable organisation that can survive for generations to come,” she said.

sade.gardner@gleanerjm.com

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Sade Gardner

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