Dear Friend of Lake Drive Books,

Here’s a guest blog post from Lake Drive Books author Marla Taviano. Like so many of us, Marla has been on a journey of change, and what’s unique about Marla is that she started an Instagram account focusing on books by BIPOC authors. It changed her. Read below:

Like most white people who grew up in mostly white small towns and went to white conservative evangelical Christian churches, I didn’t realize just how white my world was. Or that my Christianity needed all those labels to accurately describe it.

I thought I was just a “person” and a “Christian” who lived in a “small town.” And honestly? I really didn’t start waking up until around 2009-2010 (at age 34) when my family and I helped start a “multi-ethnic” church in our city. Our friend and pastor, a Black man, had a vision for racial reconciliation and bringing all kinds of people together to worship God, so that’s what we set out to do.

In early 2012, one of my Black friends wrote on Facebook, “Why aren’t any of my white friends talking about Trayvon Martin?” And I actually had to consult Google to figure out what she meant. I quickly realized that I had been oblivious to police brutality and mass incarceration and a whole host of other injustices in this country that have been ongoing for hundreds of years.

Trayvon’s death was the catalyst for what would become a life committed to antiracism, divesting from whiteness (a phrase coined by Kina Reed), and working to create a more fair and just world.

In 2017, while living in Cambodia, I discovered the online world called Bookstagram, where book lovers would post about the books they were reading. I had recently begun diversifying my bookshelves after realizing that, of the thousands of books I had read since I started reading at age four, about 99.3% of them were written by white people.

One of my new favorite books was brown girl dreaming, a middle grade novel-in-verse by Black queer author Jacqueline Woodson, which inspired me to choose the name White Girl Learning. I claimed the IG handle and shared my first post on December 1, 2017.  It started out as a 3x/week thing, but before I knew it, I was reading/reviewing a book by a Black, Indigenous, or other author of color every single day—and never looked back.

My family and I moved back to the States in March 2020 at the beginning of a global pandemic and I immediately went to work building up the library I couldn’t have in Cambodia. And I kept posting books on Instagram. And meeting more wonderful people.

Stack of books by BIPOC authors

On Mondays, my 13-year-old niece (and neighbor) reads and reviews a middle grade book. And my other nieces (8 and 6) occasionally read picture books to share. On Sundays, I do a Sunday Six Stack, grouping books with a similar theme, or with color-coordinated spines, or sometimes the titles on the spines even make a poem when you read them from top to bottom (#spinepoetry). I also pay close attention to heritage months—Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Pride Month, etc.—and focus on books by those groups during those months.

I have made countless friends and interacted with some of my author heroes, and the more I learn, the more I realize just how much I don’t know. The unlearning/learning journey will last a lifetime, and I wake up each day excited to learn and grow. There’s such a big, wide world out there, full of beauty and diversity. And my eyes have been opened to a lot of hard things too. There’s a lot of work to be done to make the world a better, fairer place.

This life-changing venture has also led to some really cool opportunities, like starting a Black Writers Fund that supports Black writers who dream of writing a book but just need time and financial freedom to make it happen.

Becoming a white girl learning has truly changed my life and it’s one of the most life-giving things I’ve ever done. My very favorite part of all of it is that my learning journey has made me a better friend. Each new day brings new opportunities to learn, laugh, read, and grow. It’s kind of magical actually.

Come along on the journey, because there’s enough magic for all of us.

Marla Taviano

Marla Taviano is into books, love, justice, globes, anti-racism, blue, gray, rainbows, poems. She reads and writes for a living (especially @whitegirllearning). She’s a mom to some freaking awesome kids, and wears her heart on her t-shirts. On a mission/ quest/ journey to live wholefarted (not a typo). She’s the author of unbelieve: poems on the journey to becoming a heretic and jaded: a poetic reckoning with white evangelical christian indoctrination.