Jherane Patmore does not shy away from the feminist label, proudly affirming her stance as a “Bloodclaat Feminist,” i.e. “an intersectional, third world feminist that couldn't care less about stepping on people's toes.”
In 2017, this 23-year-old graduate of the University of the West Indies made significant waves within Jamaica’s literary landscape with Rebel Women Lit (RWL) and ReadDis Instead, a Kingston-based book club, and quarterly book subscription box, respectively.
Patmore largely credits renowned activist Audre Lorde as the inspiration for Rebel Women Lit. “I was reading Audre Lorde’s, I Am Your Sister and wanted to share the experience with others… I wanted to create a balance of a space that was neither driven by activism nor academia. One thing led to another and what should’ve been a one-time link up to read Audre Lorde turned into a monthly book club.”
Unlike most book clubs, RWL has a largely public presence and in less than one year has developed professional relationships with large publishers and Jamaican authors. In its first few months, the book club hosted a number of intimate meet-and-greet sessions with acclaimed writers such as Lorna Goodison, Olive Senior, Nalo Hopkinson and Nicole Dennis-Benn. However, the public nature of the book club can be very demanding, “It is often a bit difficult to manage everyone’s expectations. I have to keep reminding people RWL isn’t an advocacy organization nor am I a publicist or publisher. A number of our members are involved in advocacy and publication, and we often support their work, but it’s not what we do. We love reading and chatting about books with diverse representation, and I’m trying to keep that as organic as possible.”
A fan of dystopian, fantasy and contemporary/general fiction, Patmore hopes the increased demand for more diverse literary representation continues. “Social media has given us as readers a very large platform to not only connect with writers, but also let publishers know what’s up. This year there has been a large number of call-outs in the literary community on racism, sexism, homophobia etc., and more demands for 'own voices’ books. I think this is only the beginning.”
The avid reader, who usually sets a reading goal of 40 books per year, had a great time in 2017. “I’ve read so many amazing books [last] year. Some of which include: Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn, There Are More Beautiful Things than Beyonce by Morgan Parker, Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter by J. Nozipo Maraire, Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo, If I Could Write This in Fire by Michelle Cliff, Are Prisons Obsolete? By Angela Davis, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Hunger by Roxane Gay… I can keep going but these were some of the books that had a huge impact on me.”
Despite increased representation in literature, Patmore notes that that she is still looking for the perfect book that captures her experiences as a Black, Jamaican, feminist. “The closest has been Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn and while the book feels like something I witness every single day living in Jamaica, I can only relate to some things those women experienced because we’re from different classes.” This consciousness is definitely one of Patmore’s most endearing qualities. In determining RWL’s “Book of the Month” of the month, the public was asked to send in recommendations for books they would like to read, leaving the choice to be determined completely by popular vote. Despite the success of the model, RWL is looking to shift gears in 2018, and challenge its members to take part in their Diversity Reading Challenge, which will in turn be used to guide the book club’s reading choices.
For readers struggling to find themselves reflected within the overwhelmingly white literary landscape, Patmore recommends starting with Goodreads lists, also noting that social media makes it easier to connect with fellow book lovers. “I also love how easy it is to talk to ‘big-shots’ on Twitter,” she jokes. “So ask a literary figure, [publisher, librarians, book blogger or book club] and see if they’ll respond. A lot of authors who write non-mainstream stories usually have influences and can refer you to stories they admire. Good people love sharing good books.” This is definitely true for Patmore, whose book subscription box, ReadDisInstead, aims to get “more Black women on your bookshelf.”
“Women are socialized in Jamaica to read more, however we tend to read works that are written by men, particularly men telling women what to do. The moment I made a deliberate effort to read more books by women, particularly Black women, other women of colour, queer women and women from third world countries, I found myself falling in love with reading again. I wanted to share these stories that tend to go unheard.”
Read Dis Instead’s first box included the award winning Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo and Dorothy West’s The Living is Easy. While Adebayo and West are relatively popular in North American, European and African literary circles, both authors are relatively unknown in Jamaica.
Recently, large book chains such as Sangster’s Bookstore and Kingston Bookshop have changed their focus to textbooks and self-help/inspirational readings, largely isolating fans of fiction and bestselling publications. Patmore hopes that ReadDisInstead will help fill this gap. “In 2017, when I created Rebel Women Lit, the bookstore I grew up with in Mandeville closed its doors. [This was] one of the few bookstores in all of rural Jamaica that still sold non-academic books. I don’t have the capital to start or maintain my own bookstore, so I started an online store which has a wide variety of delivery options to reach persons across Jamaica. Also, subscription boxes tend to have an option of additional items so I wanted all the additional items included to be made by women and promoting women’s businesses.”
Patmore’s approach to amplifying the work of women entrepreneurs is closely mirrored by the support given by her peers. Being a women entrepreneur means “automatic membership into a supportive community of women [who are] also in business. From an encouraging word to endorsements, I’m always taken aback by how welcoming and supportive other women are. It’s not as formal as “old boys” networks, but it’s there and I hope it expands across class, abilities, sexuality etc.” However, being a small business owner definitely has it is challenges. She says, “There are a lot of urban legends of cruel women working against the progress of other women, and I think that’s created a mental block to working with other women….It’s something I have to talk myself and some of the women I work with, out of every day.” In that regard, Patmore admires the efforts made by women working in the publishing industry who make a concerted effort to centre women in the workplace, including Kima Jones, founder of Jack Jones Literary Arts. Patmore, who is particularly impressed by Jones’s approach to being a feminist employer, hopes that more Jamaican employers will adopt a similar approach, noting that, “it’s more than just paying people fair wages, it’s encouraging professional and personal growth which I find many businesses and organizations locally lack.”
Although it has been quite a busy year for the entrepreneur, she makes time for self-care to avoid burnout, “when I’m not reading I’m binge-watching tv shows with strong female leads (according to Netflix) and taking care of my plants.”