Breaking the Cycle, She Well Read Hosts on Reading & Literary Burnout
Good ideas often form at slumber parties. When friends are near, the possibilities are endless. The night can take you from face masks and beauty routines, Regina King movie marathons, contemplating the meaning of life, to planning the creation of a literary podcast.
In the spring of 2019, Alana Baumann and Samra Michael did just that. Around Birmingham, Alabama the pair have built their own respective brands, while building a community of readers together.
“Instead of picking up my phone,” Samra says, “I want to open a book.”
Samra Michael is widely known for her unique eye for style, her rich curls and colorful wardrobe inspire stylists and artists across the Magic City. In the fashion scene, she goes by Samra the Curator and harnesses her creativity with personalizing and maintaining sustainable wardrobes. Samra has collaborated with the boutique Basic., Hatton Smith’s Campesino Rum, photographer Caroline Japall, and other artists.
On the other side of Birmingham, Alana Baumann has learned the ins and outs of business. She knows how to craft a brand and better yet, she can spot a good story in an instant. Her laugh is infectious, and her love for musicals helps guide her towards stories with deep and fully fleshed character arcs. When she’s not in the studio Alana serves as a business analyst for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama and is a proud member of her sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority Inc.
As their graduation date from the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) approached, both women kept thinking about how their personal lives, careers, and higher education led to excessive burnout that prevented them from reading. “We just stopped,” Samra says looking at Alana, both trying to piece together how their literary hiatus began, “for me, it was probably six or seven years that I didn’t read for fun because I was on my phone or doing other things in my free time.”
Turns out they weren’t the only ones that noticed that connection.
In 2019 the National Endowment of the Arts reported that only 53% of American adults read at least one book in a twelve month period. This study highlighted that fewer and fewer Americans were reading for pleasure, the lowest since 1982.
For Alana, she wants readers to think of it as, “Once I finish this chapter, I can listen to the podcast about it and you're kind of creating a community.”
That spring was a part of the podcast craze. It seemed like everyone was asking the same question, “Have you listened to this podcast,” Alana remembers, admitting that she was no stranger to the fever.
At their sleepover, wrapped in cozy blankets and contemplating a life beyond UAB, Samra brought up an idea of a local book club. With Alana’s love for podcasts, the two formed the She Well Read podcast overnight. Empowered women empowering others through literacy and community engagement.
With their diplomas in hand, they sought to end the drought. Beginning with just a single chapter a day, both began to notice substantial changes in their mood and daily life. “I can tell the difference between when I’m reading and when I’m not,” Samra explains, “my thought process is so much clearer.” Once She Well Read became a part of their daily routine their love for reading transformed from a fun hobby to a cherished necessity.
But for a podcast about redefining your relationship with reading, where do you begin?
For the duo, it’s not just about turning up the speaker or following the schedule -- it’s about fostering a community of growing readers.
In high school, Alana developed her literary tastes in dystopian young adult series and the latest John Green novel. While her bookshelf still finds room for them, she has also turned to a variety of genres, “I’m older now and there’s more life I’m experiencing,” she says, “Right now I want to learn more about the feminist movement, and how that affects me--so I’m reading Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall.”
Looking back Samra can’t help but laugh. As she felt lost in her love for reading, the voice of Ilana from the Comedy Central sitcom Broad City rang in her ears, “God, please, just pick up a book!” she recalls the character saying. Books were a major part of Samra’s childhood, so when her bookshelves piled with textbooks instead of newly released novels, “I lost a part of myself.”
Books, a hobby for some and a lifestyle for others, many use it as a way to break free from the thresholds of reality. Now as two women settle in their adult routines they find less of a need to run away, “I like my life now,” Alana says, “I don’t need to escape.”
As their bookshelves reached new milestones, the spines of their new favorites glistening from afar Samra began to notice how little she needed her phone in her hand. “Instead of picking up my phone,” she says, “I want to open a book.”
Formulating reading habits fall into order like brushing your teeth or fixing breakfast. It’s important to make it a priority so that readers are able to not only achieve their goals but to feel the euphoria that comes with reading. With this group, it’s about growing through literacy, and adding to the local culture, for Alana, she wants readers to think of it as, “Once I finish this chapter, I can listen to the podcast about it and you're kind of creating a community.”
The She Well Read podcast reaches beyond the recording studio. The pair use social media platforms like Facebook Groups and Twitter threads to not only receive feedback but to have active conversations with their audience.
Their monthly newsletter contains little treasures like what they are currently reading (outside of the podcast of course!), cocktail recipes, content-related articles, and more. Recently they set up a P.O. Box during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to connect with listeners through handwritten notes.
As Samra and Alana begin the next season of their podcast, they want readers to know that it isn’t too late to rediscover that chapter of life.
Whether it’s during a lunch break or listening to an audiobook during a morning commute, reading for fun is about finding small pockets of time. `
When Netflix asks if you’re still there, tell them you’re not and instead head over to where you listen to podcasts. You’re just one click away from joining Samra, Alana, and many other womxn on their collective literary journey.
At Camellias we share the story of womxn who Empower, Inspire, Charm, and Enrich the American South. Have a story you want to tell? Send us a pitch at firstname.lastname@example.org.