I first heard about the Shady Ladies Literary Society thanks to Instagram’s algorithm showing me a beautiful flat-lay of a recently published book and some cocktails. I hit “follow” thinking perhaps I’d get some solid book recommendations and went on my way. But quickly I realized Shady Ladies was so much more than solid Insta-content and was in fact a real-life, breathing community that I had to learn more about. Especially once I saw these images of their recently author talk and community event at Belle Isle Boat House in Detroit. So I emailed author, reporter, and Shady Ladies-founder Amy Haimerl to learn more.
So, let’s start off with the basics. What is Shady Ladies and how did it get started?
We liked to say it’s book club… but better. The idea is to bring emerging women authors to Detroit and pair them with a local chef for a night of good food and compelling conversation in interesting locations. (Think of us as the NYTimes Review of Books more rebellious younger sister. We have broader tastes and think almost everything should come with bourbon.)
We’re hoping to do two things: Since publishers almost never send authors to Detroit, we want to develop a program that shows them what a strong literary-support scene there is in the region. And expose authors — and their networks — to the great city that is Detroit.
We debuted in June 2017 with 35 women in the historic Elmwood Cemetery. This year we just finished our second season with nearly 150 at the Belle Isle Boat House.
We’ve also grown beyond just books. Now we have a Chemistry Club that pair women scientists and bartenders. The mixologist makes a drink based on the research, the scientist discusses her work, and we drink and talk science!
So, really, what Shady Ladies has become is a way to put women and their stories and voices front and center. As we like to say, “Empowered Women Empower Women.” Plus cocktails!
But you know, that’s really the history of the book club. It’s always been a place for women to gather and talk about literature, yes, but also a safe place to share information, organize, and empower. So even though not all of our events will deal with books, I still love the idea of the book club as a place for women to gather, support one another and continue their education.
What makes Shady Ladies so meaningful to you?
I guess it is in two ways. The first is that I’ve been a long time business and economics reporter. But I can tell you that starting a business and reporting on businesses are two totally different things. Even though I grew up in a small business household and have been steeped in entrepreneurship, I don’t even know what I don’t know. Man. How do you set pricing and meet mission? Find customers and vendors? Make everyone’s dreams come true? I have so much love and support for everyone out there who starts a business and follows a dream.
The second is that I’m an author. I wrote a memoir called Detroit Hustle that was published a few years ago. That experience taught me how hard it can be for early authors to connect with readers. Publishers don’t do book tours as frequently as they once did, and book stores can’t really afford to bring in writers unless they are already on tour. So you have this weird Catch-22.
That means that places like San Francisco and New York and LA, which are already hubs, get authors on tour. But cities and towns like Detroit, which have these wonderful reading communities, don’t often get access to these writers – especially early in their career.
So I wanted to create something that would reimagine the book promotion experience. We’re making it more of an experience, something not to be missed. Maybe it’s more like a band tour or, as a writer recently said, it’s a destination book reading – like a destination wedding but better because it has books and none of the pressure of marriage or pleasing your in-laws.
Common advice in writing and entrepreneurship is to write or build what you know or wish was in the world. Well, as a writer I wanted to see a way for writers to get connected to their readers in a way that is warm and loving and gracious. So many writers only ever meet their readers through the online comments in places like Goodreads. And that can be a viper’s pit. I mean, I’m a reporter and we know to never read the comments. And Goodreads can be worse! I always joke that I should do a version of Celebrities Read Mean Tweet s– you know that segment on Jimmy Kimmel? — but it would be writers reading their Goodreads reviews.
I mean, here’s one for Sula, by Toni Morrison. The Toni Morrison. Nobel Peace Prize winner Toni Morrison:
“It’s one of those, “I’m going to be all artsy and flowery with my words to make the book seem better than it really is” when in reality it’s a boring story, with a boring plot, and a poorly put together lineage.”
Wow, that is pretty harsh. Amy shares more about Shady Ladies’ recent event at the Belle Isle Boat House – and images of the gorgeous historic building – in the slideshow!