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Well-read ladies in red: a Reno book club evolves into a chapter of an organization for mature women with a sense of mirth.

When Michele Robinson relocated from Lake Havasu City, Arizona, to Reno, Nevada, in 2001, for her job with a linen supply company, she tried to acquaint herself with the churchwomen in her new hometown. As they exchanged social pleasantries and continued to go their separate ways, Robinson longed for relationships that were more meaningful.

"I was a long way from home with no real sister-friends to share my life with. That can be lonely," she says. To connect with other women on a deeper level, she believed a book club would be the perfect solution. "I always wanted to start a book club because of my love for reading," she adds. "Now I had a second reason--to get to know the people in my new home."

After speaking with several women from church and handing out official invitations for the book club, Robinson was pleased at the nine women who showed up at the first gathering. Since then, "we have had women from all walks of life," Robinson says. "We have had preachers, the highly educated, single morns, world travelers, aspiring writers, you name it. What the book club did was allow all these different women to come together and share their life experiences in a safe place. And in the process, we have learned life lessons and perspectives from each other."

Discussions soon evolved into chitchat about personal pampering. "We were always talking about dressing up and going out to tea," recalls Marvell Phillips, another member. Then one day, while visiting a teahouse in Fresno, California, Phillips was drawn to a flamboyant group of women. "They were all dressed up in red hats and purple outfits and they were having such a good time.

Fashion Meets Fiction

Known as Red Hatters, the women were members of The Red Hat Society, an international organization of women who wear vibrant colors to celebrate womanhood and friendship as they greet middle age.

The book club became an official chapter of the Red Hat Society in late 2001 and became known as the Red Halos. Considered royal ladies by virtue of maturity, the book club members acquired titles that reflected their newfound royal lineage.

"Women fifty and older wear red hats and purple outfits," says Phillips, who is royally known as the Queen Founding Mother. "Those younger than fifty wear pink hats and lavender outfits. When new members join, they are presented with a red halo.

"I thought this would be great for our book club because we can dress up and have fun and have teas and discuss our books," she says. Dressed to impress in full regalia that includes red hats, gloves, pendants and feather boas, the women turn heads whenever they host a book discussion at an outdoor venue.

"We're approached more because we're a group of elegant black women and we're dressed from head to toe in these colors," says Queen Founding Mother Phillips. "We're like little kids playing dress up and we always look good."

Over the years, the women have chatted about dozens of books by black authors. Yet for Robinson, royally known as Princess Michele, the club represents books and "so much more than just reading," she says. "Books help us to connect, but the club is life enhancing in that we share, we laugh, we cry, and are basically there for each other for the milestones and the stumbling blocks. I think about the beginnings of the club and I look now, four years later, at what it has evolved into; and I think friends, love, laughter and reading. What more can anyone ask for?"

Pat Houser is a contributing editor at BIBR. If you'd like to have your book club mentioned, e-mail her at pathouser@aol.com, or log on to: www.bibookreview.com and tell us about your dub.

GROUP PROFILE

The Club: The Red Halos

Location: Reno, Nevada

Book Preferences: Black authors in all genres

Number of Members: Six

How Often They Meet: Second Saturday of each month

Last Book Read: In Her Presence: A Husband's Dirty Secret by Nancy Weaver, Time & Chance Pub., August 2004, $15.95, ISBN 0-974-82740-1

Group's Reaction: Favorable

Next Book: The Best Kept Secret by Kimberla Lawson Roby, William Morrow, February 2005, $23.95, ISBN 0-060-73443-4

How They Choose Books: Monthly hostess chooses the book.

When I Am Old ...

The Red Hat Society has its roots in the poem "Warning" published in 1961 by Jenny Joseph, an award-winning British writer, that begins :

"When I am an old woman I shall wear purple With a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit me." It concludes:

"But maybe I ought to practice a little now? So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised When suddenly l am old and start to wear purple."

The poem was selected as Britain's favorite post-war poem in a poll in 1996, and it has been widely reproduced on everything from teacups to T-shirts. To find out more, log on to http://www.redhatsociety.com or http://www.wheniamanoldwoman.com.
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Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:The Red Halos
Author:Houser, Pat
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Geographic Code:1U8NV
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Words:840
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