City of Readers
by Powell's Books, March 1, 2023 9:22 AM
Prose Before Bros
is a book club and community made for Women of Color in Portland, Oregon. Founded in 2018, the club is currently more than 600 members strong. Encouraged by this success, a small group of members organized The Freadom Festival
, an event dedicated to the idea that reading should be inclusive and accessible. As they explained on their website: “Just like PBB, we wanted to create a space where POC can exist without explanation, and so, The Freadom Festival was born.” The inaugural festival, held the weekend of Juneteenth in 2022, was a huge success.
We were lucky enough to chat with Nanea Woods, who serves as both Founder and President of Prose Before Bros, as well as Founder and Executive Director of The Freadom Festival.
Preferred name: Nanea Woods but Nani works just as well.
Occupation: Public Relations Manager / Founder & Executive Director of The Freadom Festival / Founder & President of Prose Before Bros Bookclub
Where are you from originally? Born and raised in Portland, Oregon! Northeast Portland all day!
Last book you loved:
I’ve loved so many recently, but the last five star read that I loved was The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. The closest you can get to perfection.
Describe your first memorable reading experience.
A fun story that I love to hear my mom tell is how I learned to walk by her tossing newspapers and magazines around the room. I guess I’ve always been a lover of literature since before I could even read! But my earliest actual reading experience goes back to maybe first or second grade, when we would have RIF days (Reading is Fundamental). It only happened once a year and was the day I looked forward to the most, because they would turn our school library into a free book fair and every student got to go home with one free book of their choice. It was my heaven. I remember really taking my time because trying to choose just one book was pure torture. To this day, some of my favorite reads of all time came from the RIF days in elementary school. Shoutout to City of Ember by Jeanne Du Prau, Hank the Cowdog series, and Who Put That Hair In My Toothbrush by Jerry Spinelli — I still love you all and think about you often.
I also need to mention that I pretty much grew up in Multnomah County Libraries. My mom worked long hours and she wouldn’t always be able to pick me up after school, so she had me walk or catch the bus to our local library to wait for her there. The library was my after-school daycare. I used to play little games and try to challenge myself to finish every book in the young readers section, starting with the A’s first and then working my way down. I got to the P’s before I abandoned the idea and started reading books based on my own whims. I would even pretend to play librarian and reshelve books.
I memorized every section of the library (and so many other nerdy things I will keep to myself). But this routine of going to the library after school to wait for my mom lasted all the way until high school. Those were the best times, and I'm forever grateful to live in a city that has such a wonderful public library system. They have always been warm, welcoming, and inviting spaces that truly serve our community. Whether it's giving me a place to do my homework, access to a computer and the internet, printing off my school reports, offering shelter on super-hot or super-cold days — the library has always been there when I needed it.
What makes for a good book in your eyes?
A good book is a book that in some way changes or challenges my world view. Where after I'm done reading, I'm sitting there still thinking about it and lost in its memory. I think there’s a term for that, called a “Book Hangover.” It's a good book if I can read about something totally unrelated to me and my experience, something that I can’t at all relate to, but still feel seen after reading it. A good book doesn’t always have to end in happily ever after; a good book is honest and raw and unpredictable and a little flirty. Okay — a lot flirty if it's up to me. Because your girl loves a good romance.
For me, a good book is typically romance/dystopian/historical/fantasy/mythological-retelling, over 400 pages long, with a beautiful cover, includes a map and possibly a love triangle where the bad boy gets the girl in the end, and about eight sequels.
Were there any books you hid from your parents?
Absolutely not! I’ve got no shame in my reading game and have nothing to hide. My mom is my book partner-in-crime. Every book I enjoyed as a kid, and even now still as an adult, I immediately force upon my mom to read too. She ends up loving it just as much as I do — sometimes even more than me and tries to one up me as a fan, which is so annoying because it's like, “chill ma, remember who put you on, ok??” But I never learn and I will continue to share with her all the cool books, because honestly there is no better book buddy than your mom. She’s been rocking hard with me since the Twilight / Hunger Games / Divergent tween-vampire-dystopian 2010s era, up until now, where we gush over A Court of Thorns and Roses. So no, I never had to hide any books, unless it was like hiding how many books I checked out from the library, because my mom thought checking out ten at a time was greedy and doing too much, which I still roll my eyes at.
Why do you think bookstores remain so popular in the digital age?
I think as social media becomes more and more prevalent, our need for community and in-person connections will grow with it. Bookstores are spaces that automatically build community and are so necessary. There is also something so spiritual and therapeutic about walking up and down the aisles of a bookstore and letting your curiosity guide you. I believe there is a certain magic in bookstores, and I don’t see that kind of feeling being imitable or manufactured, especially not online. But if it does happen, I hope it looks a lot like Ready Player One.
What’s one book you’ll never part with?
Oh my gawd, that is cruel to ask a book lover. So, I’ll totally ignore the “one” part and give you five. I will never ever part with Pride and Prejudice, The Host by Stephenie Meyer, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, and everything written by Beverly Cleary. Each of these books transformed me, and has played an integral part in my development as a reader and in some ways as a woman.
Do you collect any particular types of books?
Yes, I love to collect different editions of Pride and Prejudice. I know it's so basic of me, but my love for Pride and Prejudice runs strong. So far, I have collected every color in the rainbow and they look so cute on my shelf.
What do you do when you’re not reading?
I'm running my over 600+ member WOC book club. It’s a full-time job and it takes up a majority of my free time. So if I'm not reading, I'm running our IG account, posting about books, reviewing books, making book lists, talking with authors, hosting book clubs, going to book events. Books are Life!
What do you love about Portland?
I love that we are a city of curiosity and oddities and a love of strangeness. It's my hometown, so I will always ride for it, even if I may have a few reservations about our lack of melanin. We experience all four seasons and accessibility to the ocean, rivers, mountains, etc. How walkable the city is also — like, such a flex. More importantly, I also love that Portland is such a great city for readers. We are one of the most literate cities in the country and the world, with tons of indie bookstores and one of the best public library systems, and that makes me proud and super lucky. And lastly, say what you want about Portland, but we have some of the best food scenes! I dare you to find a bad meal. It's okay, I’ll wait.
What is your favorite spot in Portland?
Powell’s, duh. And I'm not just saying that. It has always been my go-to space. Anytime I'm like, hmm I'm bored, what should I do? It’s Powell’s. Someone’s visiting out of town? Taking them to Powell’s first thing. I just need a place to chill for a second? Powell’s. Need a meet-up spot? Powell’s. I mean, I will find any and every reason to go to Powell’s. Pre-pandemic, it used to be a daily thing, but nowadays I try to limit myself to once a week. I do need help.
Name a guilty pleasure.
My guilty pleasure is anything involving reality tv dating shows. Love Island UK STAN, I swear I'm like the first American to watch Love Island. I have practically perfected my British accent because of it. Love The Bachelor, Love Is Blind, and as of recently, I am into Korean dating shows. Anyone watching Singles Inferno?… Hopeless romantic.
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Find out more about Prose Before Bros
and The Freadom Festival