Small Beauty Book Club

The Small Beauty Book Club occurred in my life at a time of intense isolation and reflection. After a joyful year of artistic hobnobbing, I’d come back to Ohio on a generous fellowship. While grateful, I missed the camaraderie and synergy of my brilliant, artsy pals. Moreover, a car accident two weeks into my return made me feel especially vulnerable, house-bound, and distant.

Books are always my friends. So, I proposed a book to activate community. Described by Morgan M. Page as “a quiet, gorgeous meditation on grief, race, and community,” Jia Qing Wilson-Yang’s Small Beauty seemed the perfect book club choice. I liked that it was set in a small town in Canada; that it would feature cousins; reveal family secrets; engage grief; and support both a small, independent press and a trans woman of color author and protagonist. It seemed to be a book grounded in identity, without rehearsing the same tropes or formulas about identity. I also really liked the cover. (So pretty!)
I hadn’t read it but had heard good things.

In late January 2018, I sent an e-mail to a large group of folks, set up a Facebook page (which almost no one used), and a Google Doc (more successful) to share introductions, favorite quotes and emerging creative ideas. After some logistical Jenga, we had our book club meetings in March. I facilitated four conversations in multiple states and time zones. Each conversation consisted of 4-5 people along with me, some of whom were very close friends (or lived together), others who had never met.

We talked about the significance of the goose and the dog in the text, queer history, the rural as harrowing, the missing mother, the United States as a southern space, Chinese-American visibility, trans-solidarity, grids of shadow and light, French exits, and other juicy things. We also made connections to Renée Gladman’s Calamities, Adrian Piper, Bebe Miller, Xavier Dolan movies, the Bespoken Bones podcast, We Want the Airwaves, and more.

I loved every minute! Our book club meetings materialized heart-centered artistic community and yielded dances, poems, letters, and art works. I can’t wait to continue this project with other books through the No. 1. Gold collective. For now, I want to thank Jia Qing Wilson-Yang for her rich novel and my fellow members of the Small Beauty Book Club for reading, discussing, and creating with me. It took a minute to gather everyone’s creations, and even longer for me to compile them. But it was so worth it!

This small project brought large beauty into my life.

Gabrielle Civil
August 2018

To view the Small Beauty Book Club as a PDF click here

Filed under: Astonishment (Reading), Small Beauty Book Club