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On the value of reading poetry together—and apart—in the current moment.

Nicole Sealey

July 31, 2020, 10:00am

Right now, many of us are at home, sheltering in place with too much to do. Why then add yet another chore, reading poetry, to an already long list of to-dos? Because joy. Because we need at least one thing on that list to be something we want to do, enjoy doing. Not another thing that we must. Who doesn’t need a bit of joy these days? Who wouldn’t want to share that joy in community?

Enter the Sealey Challenge, now in its fourth year. The Sealey Challenge is a daily book club in which readers rarely read the same book and, if they happen to read the same book, rarely do they do so on the same day. Before the challenge starts, the online excitement begins. Participants curate their own reading lists based on their individual tastes and share their picks across social media platforms. Folks ask for recommendations and resources. Authors, on occasion, offer their own books at no cost. There are even challenges within The Challenge. Last year, for instance, poet Craig Santos Perez challenged participants to read at least one book by a Pacific Islander. Each day in August, participants post photos of the book they’re reading, along with an excerpt that moves them, tagging the authors and publishers. More often than not, authors reply and repost. Authors thank readers for reading. Readers thank writers for writing. Conversations are had, connections are made. We cheer each other on and lift each other up. Simply put, it’s a good time.

I’m not quite finished curating my August reading, but authors in my pile include Natalie Diaz, Etheridge Knight, Nancy Kuhl, Claude McKay, Patrick Rosal, Leah Silveus, Tracy K. Smith, Monica Sok, Gerald Stern and Avery R. Young. From this growing list, I already know that it’ll be a rewarding month.

So join me, and hundreds of others, this August! Read collections you’ve been putting off. Reread the ones you love. Read what you can, when you can. Start on August 1st and read through the month, like me. Or, join an offshoot of the challenge, like Sealey September or #SeptWomenPoets. Many public libraries have expanded e-book and streaming services and, I learned just last week in The Sealey Challenge Facebook group (yes, there’s a Facebook group and you should join!), Sundress Publications has complimentary chapbooks online. Between the library, Sundress and our own stack, we should be good to go.

My participation in The Sealey Challenge this year is dedicated to Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman murdered by police in her Louisville home on March 13, 2020. Arrest the cops who killed Breonna.

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