Read, read more, read widely, and read Caribbean is the mission of Jamaican Bookstagrammer Cindy Allman.
Cindy, an avid reader, is part of the bookish community on Instagram known as bookstagrammers. The book influencer shares book reviews and recommendations across all genres with her more than Instagram 27,000 followers. Among her recommendations are books written by Caribbean authors. Her page @bookofcinz, a biblical play on the books of the Bible, is full of the vibrant colors of the Caribbean that grabs viewers' attention.
Amplifying Caribbean Stories
Shortly after starting her Instagram page @bookofcinz in 2018, Cindy launched the hashtag #ReadCaribbean to drive awareness of the literary work of authors from the Caribbean diaspora. She wants to encourage more people to read books written by Caribbean natives and people of Caribbean heritage. Today, the hashtag has over 18,000 posts from around the world.
To create more awareness, the Trinidad-based influencer piggy-backed on the Caribbean Heritage Month celebration in June (which honors the many contributions Caribbean-Americans made to the United States) and started Read Caribbean Month in 2019. Every year since, Cindy partners with other bookstagrammers to review and recommend books written by Caribbean authors. And with the fourth anniversary of Read Caribbean approaching in June, Allman will be teaming with more than 60 Caribbean bookstagrammers to feature new Caribbean literary work. The month-long program will include reading challenges, workshops for authors, live interviews, and panel discussions with Caribbean authors via her IGTV channel.
Change is happening – but slowly
Cindy Allman fell in love with reading at a young age. Allman's father owned a bookstore, and her mother was always reading, so books have always been a significant part of her life. When she discovered the Bookstagram community on Instagram, Allman noticed that Caribbean authors were unrepresented in this space. The bookstagrammer not only wants to get reading enthusiasts to read Caribbean books rooted in our history, but she also wants the publishing industry to take notice of Caribbean authors too. She has been using her platform to support Caribbean storytellers and confront industry challenges.
Since the recent Black Lives Matter protests against racial injustice around the world, every industry, including book publishing, has either started or amped up its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Publishers like Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster amplify stories from writers from underrepresented backgrounds. Others are only just starting to make an effort to publish stories by Black and Afro-Caribbean writers.
While there has been some progress, the struggle for DEI in publishing is far from being won. Access is one of Allman and her peers' primary topics in the bookish space. "I reached out to a publisher to get an advance reader copy of a book written by a Caribbean author, and they told me that they do not ship internationally. I am their audience, and they told me they do not ship to the region the book was written about."
Reviews are so crucial to achieving success as a writer. Cindy explains that often Caribbean authors get a bad review for books that include their local dialect because the reader cannot relate to the story. If readers feel the dialect is "too heavy," one bad review can spiral into many more. That is why Allman believes it is important that traditional publishing houses, not just independent ones, provide earlier access to Caribbean-related books to Caribbean influencers like herself. After all, they have a devoted following ready and waiting.
Cindy, who has a background in marketing and advertising, is doing her part to ensure that book lovers and anyone looking for Caribbean literature can have access no matter where they are. This bookstagrammer's literary passion extends beyond Instagram. She has a book club that meets monthly in-person and online. She also opened a free library in Trinidad, where she currently resides, with over 200 titles and dozens of genres. Individuals can borrow up to two books a month.
It's been hard work, but Cindy has had a fantastic journey thus far. In the four years she has been a Bookstagrammer, Cindy Allman has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Pop Sugar, and Marie Claire Magazine. "There have been some amazing moments and some not great ones…but overall, it's been a joy to see the growth of Read Caribbean, the book club, and my Instagram community," she said.
If you're looking to access Caribbean book recommendations, reviews, and literary conversations, check out @bookofcinz on Instagram.