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Celebrating the excellence of Black authors has long been a priority for podcaster, writer, and creative Audra Russell (@betweenthereadspodcast). With a passion for reading and a deep love and appreciation for all things Black culture, the Hampton University graduate and New Jersey native has taken an active approach to address the disparities that exist in the literary world by creating a lane for Black independent authors to showcase their work. This support and solidarity can be heard on her podcast Between the Reads, which highlights the work and stories of Black independent authors.
Launched in 2020, the independently-produced podcast also promotes Black-owned bookstores, which play a critical role in the elevation of Black authors. Russell, who made a vow to read after watching Alex Haley’s 1977 TV series Roots, was inspired to create her podcast when she noticed how Black authors were only celebrated during Black History Month. After taking inventory of her own bookshelf, she also realized that her collection of books was comprised of white fiction writers and prominent Black authors like Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright.
From there, she made it a priority to seek out the work of Black independent authors, which helped to expand her reading palate. A chance social media interaction with independent novelist Tiff Bella would lead to the official launch of her podcast, which has now blossomed into more than 120 episodes with thousands of downloads.
In an interview with Passionfruit, Russell discussed the importance of amplifying Black independent authors, building trust with her podcasting audience, how she selects guests and quotes for her podcast, the importance of time management as a podcast creator, and more.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Your podcast, in many ways, provides a safe haven and space for Black independent authors to not only promote their work but to also be themselves. Why is it important for you to provide and maintain such a space?
In the book world, most of the spaces that are out there are for white authors. They get all the shine and marketing, and publishing companies give higher budgets and publicity to white authors. Because of this, publishing companies only let certain books by Black writers and other people of color through the gates, which can cause stories to be watered down and changed from their original purpose.
Then, I realized that there aren’t a ton of spaces solely dedicated to Black authors where they can just talk about their book and not have to explain themselves and their culture or why a certain character or story is written in a specific way. The writers and creators of these stories understand that I know where they’re coming from, and I think it’s important that we have these spaces.
The other thing is that Black people are the only race of people that are expected to make space for other people. No other race is called on to make space for us. Yet, with everything we create, we’re called on to make space for other people. So, when I started this podcast, I thought about the dynamics of the publishing industry and America in general and decided I wanted to make this space exclusively Black because I’m Black and I want to promote what I know.
What goes into the selection process for identifying guests for your podcast?
On the podcast, we cover both traditionally published and indie book authors with special emphasis on indie authors. Black authors overall don’t get the shine and support they deserve, but Black indie authors receive just as less, so when I look for books to cover, I try to look for indie authors first. Second, I look for books that are not necessarily on people’s radars, which means they may not always be trending on social media or on any bestsellers’ list. But they are books that I’ve read and are good, and they may need more attention brought to them. So, I make it a point to highlight books by lesser-known Black indie authors.
A unique feature of your podcast is that every episode ends with a new quote. How do you select a new quote for each episode?
Selecting a quote for each episode goes into reading and understanding each of my guests’ books. From there, I find a quote that’s related to the theme of the book. For instance, if the book is about someone who is struggling to love themselves, then I’ll find a quote about self-love. Or if a book is focused on a situation like domestic violence, then I’ll find a quote related to strength. Most of the quotes I find and use on the podcast are by someone who’s Black and related to the theme of the book I’m reading.
Because your podcast spotlights Black indie authors, what are some of the things that you have been able to learn from your guests?
One thing that I’ve learned is that writing is really a business. Being an indie author, you typically wear a lot of hats because you’re the author, marketer, and publicist. You usually have complete control over the book design, which is another hat you wear. As an indie author, you really have to love what you do, but also understand that you’re not going to make money right out of the gate. Everything is all about consistency.
Since your podcast is focused on Black independent authors, it’s very likely that people are listening to your show for book recommendations, which can also mean that you’re building trust with your audience. That said, what does trust with your audience look like?
Trust with the audience means being transparent about the books I read. When I interview a guest, you can tell whether I really enjoyed a book, or when I read a book and it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the book is bad or it’s a bad story. The book may not be for me because there are different books for different people. So, trust is making sure that I take the time to vet these books and vet the authors before I have them on the podcast so that I feel comfortable recommending their work. When I first started the podcast, I would interview every indie author I could find. Now, I take a different approach, which has been part of my growth process as a podcast host.
The work of an independent podcaster is not without its challenges. With three years of podcasting and more than 120 episodes under your belt, how have you been able to maintain consistency?
Time management is something I believe in. I have always been a stickler for time management going back to high school and college. So, having and utilizing a planner allows me to connect with possible guests weekly and record and edit my shows. New episodes are released on Tuesdays. This year, I am changing things up a bit to where I am releasing two shows a month due to burnout from reading a new book every single week—but I understand what I do is important because you never know who is watching or listening. If listening to an episode helps to bring attention to an author or book, then I have done my job.
In addition to promoting books, you also make it a priority to highlight Black-owned bookstores. So, with large companies like Barnes and Noble and Amazon competing for consumer attention, why is it important to you to highlight Black-owned and independent bookstores?
It’s important to highlight Black-owned bookstores because it goes along with my mission. I want people to know about Black authors, so I want them to know about Black-owned bookstores. It’s important that we (Black people) keep our dollars in our community and recognize that when you support a Black-owned bookstore, you’re supporting a family, a dream, but most of all, Black authors. Black bookstores also have an array of books, but their first responsibility is to Black authors. It’s important to build economic strength in the Black community, and one of the ways to do that is to support Black-owned businesses.
What’s on the horizon for 2023?
Right now, I’m still working on building my podcasting studio. Last year, I’d done a fundraiser where we received enough money to get phase one of the project done which was clearing out my backyard to create space. With the Patreon money that comes in every month, I’ve been able to save bits at a time. I’d like to create more professionally done reels and video series, so those things may come with a new studio. On the podcasting side, I have a new show launching called Staying on Code where I will discuss non-fiction books by and about Black people, and what it means to be Black in America. Figuring out what I want to do with Between the Reads is also something I’m thinking about heading into this year, but I’m grateful for the support.