Saturday, November 4, 2017

JCUF VOL 4 NO 1 (2017) - The 2014 Toronto Urban Book Expo, Event Review

Inspired specifically by a trip to Houston, Texas, to attend the National Black Book Festival (NBBF), the Toronto Urban Book Expo (TUBE) began as a concept of duplication. The owner of the NBBF, Gwen Richardson, was approached by Kya Publishing's Stacey Marie Robinson, and asked if she was interested in expanding her brand north of the border. Ms. Richardson graciously declined, as she had her hands full with her annual Book Festival. Hosting over 100 authors each year, the NBBF has become a staple in the urban/Black book fair circuit, with steady growth and positive national awareness.

While there were dozens of similarly-themed book fairs across the United States, there was nothing comparable in Toronto or Canada for black and urban authors to gravitate towards--the conversation didn't end there. Ms. Robinson and Ms. Richardson continued to chat, and Ms. Richardson was more than happy to provide recommendations, tips, and an overview of the development of her book fair. This was 2010, and the beginning of TUBE's planning.

Notes multiplied, ideas spawned, and eventually (after an exploratory 2013 panel discussion at the Toronto Public Library entitled "Defining Canadian Urban Fiction," the inaugural Toronto Urban Book Expo took place on Saturday, February 8, 2014 at the Malvern Branch of the Toronto Public Library (TPL). A call was put out to local authors via word of mouth and social media, and details were coordinated with the branch librarian, Joanne Bainbridge.

A small event, there was a modest but steady stream of friends, supporters, library patrons, and curious onlookers for the duration of the four hours.

Sean Liburd, writer, and owner of Knowledge Bookstore was present to speak, and share his wisdom on urban fiction and cultural literature. Entertainment expert and event producer Ian Andre Espinet spoke about his experiences within the industry, and his views on urban culture. Reggae artist and CHRY 105.5fm staff member Mel Dube shared her perspectives on urban culture. Author and cultural expert Dalton Higgins also shared his views on the connotations of the word "urban," as well as provided the keynote address for the afternoon. The four selected cultural experts were interviewed by journalist Angela Walcott:

Remarks were shared from event coordinator Stacey Marie Robinson, as well as from event host Keishia Facey, while MC Brenton B provided the musical soundtrack to the day's event. The additional participating authors each spoke to the gathered folks about the books they had on sale, their experiences in publishing, and the inspiration behind their individuals works.

These featured authors also included:

Three representatives from the "7 MasterMinds" including Lloyd Richards, Maurice Burnside, T. Peter James, Amatus Forsac, Fitzroy Grossett, Curline Bennett, and Angelita Barnswell

Representatives from "Basodee: An Anthology Dedicated to Black Youth" featuring Mutendei Nabutete

Author John Robinson Jr.

Author Matthew L. Taylor

Children's Writer Angelot Ndongmo

Author Stacey Marie Robinson

The informal gathering was an introduction to many for this type of event in Toronto. While Liburd's Knowledge Bookstore and other landmarks in Toronto like A Different Booklist and various branches of the TPL had hosted many book launches, celebrations, and author gatherings, this particular event was specifically dedicated to "urban" fiction and culture. This was indeed a first.

Through discussion, peer-to-peer connections, and attendee feedback, it was determined that the model of TUBE and the intent behind celebrating urban fiction, authors, and culture was something worth continuing to pursue. A participant survey was collected and collated, with plans set in motion to continue the tradition the following year.

With the support of Joanna Bainbridge, and the TPL communications staff, and the Kya Publishing team of volunteers and event facilitators (Telisha Ng, Angela Walcott, Brent Kitson, Camille Ramnath, Jackie Beckford, Jenelle Diaz, Keishia Facey, Kevin Williams, Marsha Mohammed, Pam Robinson, Pat Diaz, and Rea Ganesh), the formula was established. The mission, ignited by the enthusiasm and inspiration of the African-American writers in Houston, Texas, was now going to become a reality in Toronto for years to come.


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