Emily Stobbe: Reader of Books on Social Justice
Emily Stobbe is a recent college graduate from St. Louis, and aspiring teacher and potentially a writer as well. She cannot get enough of reading, social justice, and activism. She also loves dogs and quesadillas. She is currently reading one book about social justice each week on documenting her reads on @itsourbookclub on Instagram.
Make Muse: How do you tell people about @itsourbookclub, if they don’t already know about it?
Emily: I usually tell them about why I began it because that is still a big driving force behind my goals for the account. Since 2014 I have been making a point to read one book per week, but these books were always fiction, and I did not go out of my way to read books by women, people of color, or other marginalized voices. This often happened, but it wasn’t intentional.
In 2016, I was studying abroad in London and I was surprised to see how much people there knew about American politics. At the same time, I was enrolled in a class about social justice in education, and American schools and social justice issues were commonly brought up. The day Trump got elected was hard for the Americans there, because we suddenly felt very isolated. I distinctly remember several European friends asking me “So…how are you?” with a knowing smile. Meanwhile I spent much of the day in tears and fury-journaling. But they were not shocked that Trump was elected. They were under no illusions about the state of America. All of this really showed me how brainwashed I’d been, to some extent.
After that, I decided to spend one year reading about social justice issues. I didn’t want to be uneducated anymore, and realized I had to take that into my own hands. I decided to post about the books online. Since then it’s definitely snowballed. I meant to stop after just one year and now I don’t want to stop at all.
Make Muse: What prompted your interest in social justice?
Emily: My mom especially has always been very open about social justice, especially racial justice, and this opened the door for me, especially since I grew up and still primarily live in a wealthy, predominantly-white community with well-hidden racial issues. (My specific tiny suburb is actually written about in Race, Place, and Suburban Policing by Andrea Boyles.) I volunteered throughout high school, helped found and run a leadership organization for at-risk middle schoolers (even though I’m learning not to like the term “at-risk,” I’m not sure what else to say yet) who were all black. But it’s been the reading, and the conversations online and in person based off of my reading, that truly educated me more about social justice. Before I started the reading, I could conceptualize social justice as a sort of hobby, something I was a good person for involving myself in but that I could easily just walk away from. Now I see how we’re all complicit, all tied up in it, and we all have to do the work. Social justice has become my life and it’s going to remain a part of my life forever.
Make Muse: What has been your favorite book you’ve read so far?
Emily: Honestly I can’t quite choose. The first book I read was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and it remains one of my favorites. The writing is beautiful, and I think it is so special to me as well because it was the first I read for my account, and so it disrupted a lot of my thinking for the first time. I still recommend it to everyone who asks what they should read first.
Invisible No More by Andrea Ritchie gave me a very necessary look into police brutality against black women, girls, and women of color. I recommend this as well, though it’s heavier and more technical. Ain’t I A Woman by bell hooks decolonized a lot of my thinking around feminism and allowed me to see how white it’s been, historically and in the present. And one of my all-time favorites is Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale by Maria Mies, which was so in-depth and laborious to read, but which really revolutionized a lot of my thinking about capitalism, socialism, Marxism, patriarchy, colonialism…I could go on.
Make Muse: What are some future books you plan on reading?
Emily: So many! But the ones most immediate are Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White by Frank Wu and Sociology in Question by Pierre Bourdieu.
Make Muse: How have you positioned @itsourbookclub as a community?
Emily: I love when people comment on my posts or reply to my stories. I want it to be a community that encourages people to read about social justice issues––I focus on race and gender at this point, but want to read more about queerness––and educate themselves. I also recognize that the vast majority of my followers are white women, so I want to especially encourage them to learn and reflect on how whiteness has shaped them…to look outside themselves. I also like the conversations because I learn a lot as well.
Make Muse: Are you a writer as well? Do you have any interest in writing a book someday?
Emily: We’ll see, honestly. Who knows. I used to think writing was my “destiny,” but now my aims are on teaching and then potentially working for social justice through education in another way, maybe law or policy. I truly have no idea, since this devotion to social justice as a vocation is relatively newer to me. Short answer: Yes? But I don’t know what about yet.
Make Muse: Female authors were kept out of the literary world until only a few hundred years ago. Do you have thoughts about the disparity of voices existent in writing?
Emily: I always think of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Still today, literature written by and especially consumed by women (chick lit, YA lit, etc.) is seen as somehow subpar, subliterature. This is sexist and patriarchal. I also think we need to get more intersectional with how we look at representation in literature (and a lot of people already are!). We need more women of color’s voices to be uplifted, for example. If their work is already published, it should be promoted and read more. Also, characters and stories that aren’t usually “good enough” for literature need to be explored as well (like queerness, disability, etc.).
Make Muse: What are your favorite books with strong female leads or multi-faceted female protagonists?
Emily: This is such a hard question! Of course, I loved The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I love anything by Zadie Smith, but I think the women in White Teeth are my favorite so far. The mother in A Mercy by Toni Morrison is incredibly rendered. And Hamida in Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz is so complex. These are the first that come to mind.
Make Muse: Do you have a favorite female author?
Emily: At this point, it’s got to be Zadie Smith and Toni Morrison. I’m determined to read everything they write.
Make Muse: We loved your spotlight in March for Women’s History Month. Is there any particular reason you chose to devote a month specifically to female-focused reading material?
Emily: I thought it would just be a fun way to share with my followers some of the women heroes I have in my life, and women we can look up to. I had done the same thing with black people in February, and by March I was super invested in it since I got such positive feedback. I would usually spend a half hour on each person finding the right pictures, cross-referencing information, etc. It was so much fun. All the women I chose are ones I’d previously heard or read about, but I tried to choose women that weren’t usually taught about in school that way my followers would learn about new amazing people. I plan to do this again next year for both Black History Month and Women’s History Month since there are so many people to highlight.
Make Muse: How can literature be labeled feminist literature?
Emily: I think literature is feminist if it confronts patriarchy through transgression, subversion, or just addressing its realities and consequences. True feminism in my opinion isn’t just “equality”; rather, it is dismantling our current racist, classist, sexist institutions in order to create a society that isn’t reliant on the oppression of others. It necessitates the freedom of black women, of trans women, of immigrant women, etc. I also think literature can be feminist even if women aren’t forefronted: I always say Lord of the Flies feels very feminist because it critiques patriarchy and toxic masculinity, even if there aren’t really women involved (and even if that wasn’t Golding’s intent!). But of course, my favorite feminist literature so far has centered women and girls.