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NBCBLK28: Yahdon Israel Has the Literary Swag to Make Reading Cool Again

“Open that avenue where I empower you and learn what you care about. Literary swag is not just about being literate, it's about being confident in it.”
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Yahdon Israel, 26, New York City


Yahdon Israel just wants to make literature more accessible to people who don't like to read.

Two years ago, while on the subway, he was compelled to post an image of a young Black boy sporting camo pants and bright yellow headphones, bent in concentration over a book: “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Israel, a published essayist and graduate of The New School’s Creative Writing program, began using his Instagram account to capture images of stylishly dressed people reading books, and the #LiterarySwag movement was born.

“#LiterarySwag is an intersection of fashion and literature,” said Israel, 26. “The whole idea is you can be both because everyone can be more than one thing.”

Israel has interviewed numerous influencers in the literary world about their latest read or favorite fashion brand and he also hosts a monthly book club in his Brooklyn neighborhood.


“I have the book club because there has to be communal events that make people feel like they can walk in and immediately become a part of something,” he said.

Comparing himself to Fab 5 Freddy, the hip-hop pioneer and MTV host who pushed underground rap into the mainstream, Israel wants to change perceptions about books and get more youth enthused about reading. He is the "exporter of the swag," as he calls it.

“You talk to the people that actually affect culture and that’s kids. For them, the more important thing is not me talking to them about dreams — but let me endear myself to you, open that avenue where I empower you and learn what you care about. Literary swag is not just about being literate, it's about being confident in it.”


Taking my foot off the gas pedal and taking my time. I spent a great deal of time convincing myself that life had an expiration date on it. I challenge myself to take heed to what my mom used to tell me — "If it's really meant for you, then it will be there" — and be more present.


Most people probably don't know I sincerely love gangster movies: ”New Jack City,” “Goodfellas,” “Deep Cover,” “Blow,” “Paid In Full,” “Casino,” “Killa Season,” “Belly.” That list goes on forever.

People probably don't know I hate bookshelves. By virtue of what I do, I know I'm expected to be in love with all things book related, but nah. The books in my apartment line the floor for a reason. Book shelves take up too much space. They're clunky. They're just aesthetically off to me.

NBCBLK28 2017 Honorees
NBCBLK is using the 28 days in the month of February to honor 28 of the nation's most impressive innovators, all 28 years and younger. Get to know the #NBCBLK28 class of 2017.

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