Meet Jamise Harper - The Bookstagrammer behind Spines Vines and Co-Curator of Lit On H St. Book Club
One of the many things that I love about the book community on Instagram is that it is filled with so many strong, intelligent women who are working hard to make a difference in the world and who love to talk about their passion for books to anyone who will listen. One such account is @spinesvines, run by the phenomenally talented Jamise Harper. I have had the privilege of getting to know Jamise over the course of this last year and along with being a passionate advocate for diverse books and authors, she is just an incredible and kind woman. In addition to running her own book account, she also co-curates the DC book club Lit On H St, which meets every month at the indie book store, Solid State Books in Washington, D.C. I can not wait for the day that I can attend one of their meetings in real life and talk books with her face to face. Today is Jamise’s birthday and I am thrilled that she recently took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for my Meet The Bookstagrammer segment.
1) You are a Congressional Liaison Specialist for the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs. Tell me what your day is like. Have you always been interested in government and politics?
I work in a fast paced environment where no two days are alike. Actually no hour in a day is the same. Relationship building is essential and attention to detail is crucial. It is key to maintain close and confident relationships with Members of Congress and their staffs. I organize and attend meetings on issues related to the policies, programs, and projects of my agency. Overall my day consists of receiving and responding to inquiries from Members of Congress, their staffs and Committee staffs concerning agency policy, or action desired by Congress.
I never thought I’d be interested in government or politics but I was selected by my federal agency to support the 2012 and 2016 Presidential Transition Teams. Although we did not have a transition in 2012, we knew that one would occur in 2016. For 2016 I was the Chief of Staff to the Federal Transition Coordinator. The Chief of Staff to the Federal Transition Coordinator provides direct support to the Federal Transition Coordinator who is responsible for developing strategies for and providing guidance to federal agencies, eligible candidate teams and the Office of the President-elect to ensure a seamless transfer of power between the incoming and outgoing administrations. The transfer of power from one administration to the next marks a significant moment in U.S. history. My agency plays a prominent role in this process providing a variety of services needed to help the successful candidate assume their official duties.
Meeting President Obama - It was one of the greatest moments and honors in my life. As he was preparing to exit as our 44th President, his staff contacted us to say that he wanted to thank a few folks that helped transition his team to their new office space. I literally thought I was going to faint as we waiting in the reception area of his new office space. I could hear him talking before he appeared and then there he was face to face with myself and 5 of me team members. He shook everyone's hand and asked what role that played in supporting the Outgoing Administration. He was so warm and personable. It was such a surreal moment. I will treasure that photo forever!
2) Last year you started the #diversespines hashtag and Spine of the Month on your personal book account with an amazing lineup of women authors. What prompted you to do this?
My personal goal for 2018 was to promote & focus on reading women authors of color. This desire fueled the birth of the #diversespines reading challenge on Instagram. I believe reading more diverse books allows you to grow and expand. You experience cultures and human conditions that are unlike your own and often discover there’s an aspect that you can relate to or empathize with. Diversity is vital in fostering empathy.
3) You are also the co-founder of Lit on HST with Lupita of @lupita.reads where you have partnered with Solid State Books to host a monthly book club. What does an evening with your book club look like?
Lupita and I initially met via Instagram and eventually met at a book event. An amazing friendship developed and it was a no brainer for us to partner in moderating a book club. A LIT on H St book club meeting is like an evening with your best girlfriends (or guy friends), enjoying a wonderful bottle of wine and sharing your thoughts on the latest book that you’ve all read. It’s a safe place where all are welcomed and respected. An environment where people can feel safe to share their thoughts and feelings.
4) I read where you are often called "the book event queen." Can you tell me a little about that?
Oh this is funny. A book events manager mentioned that she sees me at all DC book events and made the comment “you’re the book event queen” The name has stuck ever since. I love independent bookstores and am fortunate to have several in my region. I do my best to support them and like that they know that they can count on me for support. There was one summer when I was at Politics and Prose Bookstore three to four times a week for a solid month. It really is my happy place, my me time. I enjoy it!
5) Your book account often showcases books and wine. Where are some of your favorite spots to unwind with a great glass of wine and a good read? Which wine is your favorite and why?
My favorite spot to unwind with a great glass of wine & a good read is on my deck or in my reading chair next to the fireplace in the family room. Asking your favorite wine is just like asking what is your favorite book, I can’t pick one.
Hands down I love all things Cakebread Cellars. Their Sauvignon Blanc is my favorite white wine. It’s vibrant, wonderfully fresh aromas of pink grapefruit, melon and white peach introduce zesty flavors of Meyer lemon, lime, guava, gooseberry and juicy melon. Friends call me the Cakebread Queen. I see a queen pattern shaping up here. :) I have a few favorite red wines: Prisoner Co. Red Wine Blend, Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon and Frank Family Zinfandel. I’ve have visited all of these vineyards (with the exception of Prisoner) in Napa and learned a lot about their wine making process and company history.
5) What author inspires you the most and why?
This is a hard choice but the first author that comes to mind is Jesmyn Ward. I love that she is not afraid to lay bare the human conditions of African Americans, especially men, in poverty stricken rural south. She unapologetically tackles hard subjects like race, poverty and the systemic marginalization of people of color in a way that the reader will inevitably feel some level of empathy. No one writes pain as beautiful as Jesmyn Ward. Her elegant prose stirs your soul and remains embedded in your memory.
6) What are your ten top reads? (In no particular order)
1. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
2. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
3. Between the World & Me by Ta Nehisi Coates
4. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
5. Sugar by Bernice McFadden
6. Citizen by Claudia Rankine
7. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
8. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
9. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
10. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
*Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (I couldn’t leave this off)
I am so grateful that Jamise took time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions. If you are not already following her on Instagram, please click here to check out her incredible account.