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Meet The Reader: Jess Harrison

Written by Lily Kehoe, 27th June 2024

Jess Harrison is our Data Training and Engagement Lead at The Reader. She also co-leads Shared Reading: Pride on the Page which explores stories and poems by a diverse range of writers from the LGBTQIA+ community. As a new set of taster sessions recently launched at The Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, for Pride Month, we ask Jess about what running the group means to her.

Jess being interviewed by BBC Radio Merseyside as part of promotion for taster sessions at Liverpool Everyman

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at The Reader.  

I started working at The Reader in 2019 in the Monitoring and Evaluation team. I spend a lot of time helping to train colleagues in using our digital systems, as well as helping the organisation gather valuable insights about our work from our data and evaluation projects such as Feedback Week.  

You’re also one of the co-leads of the Shared Reading: Pride on the Page group at The Mansion House, Calderstones Park. How did that come about?  

Pride on the Page started as an online group during lockdown as part of a wider ongoing project around Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at The Reader. We read and talk about stories and poems written by a diverse range of writers from the LGBTQIA+ community, including authors such as Carson McCullers, Jackie Kay and Alan Hollinghurst, and poets like Audre Lord, Mark Doty and CP Cavafy.

We were so happy to be able to start meeting in person after the pandemic, and now it takes place on Wednesdays at the Mansion House between 2pm and 3.30pm. 

Why do you think it's important to have a group specifically designated to the exploration of stories and poems from the LGBTQIA+ experience?  

There are so many wonderful stories and poems written by people from the LGBTQIA+ community that can be read in any Shared Reading group, but our members often find meanings that resonate with our shared experiences and help us to dig deeper into the nuances of what it’s like to have different aspects to our identities.   

What are one of your favourite reads from the group? 

In the group, we read a poem called Of Molluscs by May Sarton. Here’s a quick extract:


You who have held yourselves closed hard

Against warm sun and wind, shelled up in fears

And hostile to a touch or tender word—


The ocean rises, salt as unshed tears.

It’s one of my favourite poems because I think it illustrates what Shared Reading can do for people – it helps them open up and express themselves, even if they’ve spent a lot of time being ‘shelled up in fears’.   

What would you say to someone looking to try the group who may be a little apprehensive about trying out Shared Reading?  

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Shared Reading is that it’s only for people who love reading or who know a lot about books. Actually, our group members often most value the conversations that we have and the enjoyment of being there with others - and from our research, we know that the biggest impact often happens for people who don’t consider themselves big readers.

While all Shared Reading groups are open and welcoming to new members, we make sure that as an LGBTQIA+ inclusive space that everyone feels comfortable and that their opinions matter.  

You’ve recently collaborated with Liverpool Everyman Theatre to host taster sessions. What’s next for the Pride on the Page group happening there? 

We really enjoyed working with the Liverpool Everyman to run some sessions in conjunction with their production of Tell Me How it Ends, a play about the AIDs crisis in the 1980s. As a result, they have very kindly offered us a new home for our second Pride on the Page group from September – keep an eye on our social media for more details! 


Find out more about the Calderstones Pride on the Page group here.

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