The Sapph-Lit Book Club

How founder Nina Haines created an “incredible queer ... book-loving community”

| 14 Jul 2022 | 06:05

Imagine a community described as “a disco ball wrapped in a warm hug.” This is what Nina Haines, the founder of Sapph-Lit, built in NYC from the queer and book-loving corner of the internet. Sapph-Lit celebrated its first anniversary in May and welcomes sapphic readers to enjoy sapphic literature together.

A recent book-focused internet phenomenon has stemmed into “Bookstagram” and “BookTok”: places where readers recommend and discuss their reads on social media apps Instagram and TikTok, respectively, paving the way for Sapph-Lit.

“I started Sapph-Lit in May of 2021, when I was at my last job and very depressed, craving queer community ... after some encouragement from friends, I started posting on TikTok. That grew exponentially, really, really quickly, in a way that I did not expect. And I found this incredible queer BookTok, book-loving community,” said Haines.

Yet she realized TikTok could not be the inclusive, safe space she and others yearned for. “We were all kind of like passing ships in the night ... we would talk about the same books, but never in the same space.” After one follower commented on a video asking to start a book club, Haines was determined. Within the day, the club had a virtual platform with over 50 members on the app Geneva.

Sapph-Lit is structured as a book club. On a monthly basis, members vote on two books, one fiction, and one non-fiction, to read and discuss on Zoom.

“It all happened really, really quickly. Now, we have over 3,000 [members], we are in 55 countries, we have an entire brand campaign supported by Geneva. We’re a part of the Geneva leaders program, I’ve interviewed nine authors, and I have three more author interviews scheduled,” Haines said. “It’s just absolutely changed my life. We’ve done meetups in Toronto and in New York.”

“Reach the Readers”

Haines has interviewed novelists Torrey Peters and Samantha Shannon, among others. Often, authors arrive at the interviews enthused that such a space exists. “The author interviews have really enhanced the Sapph-Lit experience, and enhanced my love for what this community means,” Haines said, “[the authors] love to reach the readers that they intend.”

As a book club, reading together also enhances the community aspect. As members join from all over the world, they can enter a space that values their identity in a variety of ways.

“Getting to hear how other queer people relate to literature enhances my experience of reading it,” Haines added, “and I think it enhances the community’s experience of reading it.”

The community itself is a haven of inclusivity and safety, while also affirming visibility and validity.

“Sapph-Lit to me ... It’s being snuggled under a fuzzy blanket on a velvet couch and reading a book with a cup of tea,” said Haines. “It’s super fun, and out there, while still being safe and cozy and centering.”

Members Around the Globe

The limitless outreach of an online platform comes with extremely negative aspects. “The internet can be a really nasty place, especially as a queer person,” Haines commented about facing toxicity, harassment, and rampant homophobia online, especially as the face and founder of a queer space.

Yet due to the internet’s expanse, it is also possible to reach many members from around the globe and welcome them to the private platform. Haines receives messages daily from members, who explain that Sapph-Lit has had the power to “change their lives.” She added, “it’s changed my life, and every single message has made me keep going. In the moments where I’ve been really low... I just think of all the people who have told me that Sapph-Lit means something to them.”

Most exciting for many members is the group’s permeability to transfer offline as well. In September 2021, the New York members met for the first time in person. Haines said, “it makes me feel really seen, and it’s comforting to know that there are people having the same experiences that I’m having.”

“There is an instant intimacy and vulnerability and trust that’s really implicit in the interactions that we have. That translates on the internet and that translates [in real life].” This seamlessness solidifies the connections made around the world. For those who live far from other members, online discussions range from advice, support, celebrations, favorite reads, life updates, creating plans, and everything in between.

“Bringing These Voices to the Forefront”

From book selections to author representation, Haines said, “I want to make sure that we are amplifying BIPOC, AAPI, Indigenous, nonbinary, trans voices, marginalized voices in the queer community ... and making sure I’m bringing these voices to the forefront.”

“I do recognize my privilege and position in the queer community,” said Haines, “that’s why Sapph-Lit is not me. Sapph-Lit is our members, and our members are not all people with my background and experiences. So honoring the diversity of sapphics is top of mind for me always... I want the books that we read to support independent authors and share marginalized stories.”

As Sapph-Lit grows, it has gained attention and even a public spotlight, both on and offline. Geneva, the platform where the group exists, held a photoshoot as a part of their campaign. A Sapph-Lit billboard was displayed on the Lower East Side.

Haines cried upon seeing her face on Geneva’s billboard. “I have lived in New York City for seven years, and I have never seen sapphic representation in a public space like that.”

Growing exponentially, Sapph-Lit is just getting started. “One day, my pipe dream is to be the book club that gets printed on the paperback versions of books,” Haines said. “Where Sapph-Lit is recognized as a community that prioritizes, one, being a safe space, and two, amplifying sapphic representation in literature. Because the history of woman-loving-woman is one of invisibility.”

In the shorter term, Haines and the other leaders of Sapph-Lit hope to open a store where a portion of profits go to helping members afford the monthly picks.

“I think queer community is something that’s really ephemeral, something that’s really temporal ... because of the persecution of the queer community historically, it’s had to adapt itself to pop up anywhere and everywhere. These spaces that we create can be gone in an instant, so having to really cherish the time that we have and make the most of it is something that I’ve really approached this project with,” said Haines.

“I hope Sapph-Lit is forever and always. But, I want to, while I can and while I have the means to, provide the best experience for everyone,” said Haines. “It’s to see people realize that there’s someone like them out there, even if they may not have someone like them next to them, in their own space, in their own town, in their own city.”

“Getting to hear how other queer people relate to literature enhances my experience of reading it, and I think it enhances the community’s experience of reading it.” Nina Haines of Sapph-Lit