Harlem Book Fair--it is the perfect setting for literary celebration, cultural investigation, and community gathering.
All of the literary greats have had a presence at this event, from Cornel West and Maya Angelou, to Terry McMillan and Walter Mosley. With a mission of creating "access to the transformative power of reading by celebrating, encouraging, and promoting literacy and literacy awareness through public programs, community participation, corporate partnerships and in-school programs that broaden and strengthen the vitality of the African-American community" it is a must-see event for any Black writer or cultural enthusiast.
Kya Publishing visited the event in July of 2017, to experience the culture, speak with the participating authors, gather new reading materials, and gain deeper understanding of the value of the cultural-specific book fair to the Black and "urban" writing community.
QBR/Black Book Review.
Dozens of vendor booths, ranging from the elaborate to the no-frills, aligned the road, bookmarked by the New York Public Library's Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture, as well as other Harlem landmarks. There were Israelites distributing promotional materials for an upcoming community event, authors without stationary vendor booths who shared their literature from backpacks, and community members and supporters visiting with those on display.
The literature? The authors presented a range of works varying from tales of romance, to three-hundred page deep historical fiction from scholars and life-long writers. Mystery stories, children's books...it was all there. Careful investigation of the books and products made it evident that it wasn't so much the specific books that made this event such an important one, but it was the collective presentation of the books, and the spirit of the location and legacy that made that particular venue so special.
A month later, August 26 in Seattle was the 2nd annual Seattle Urban Book Expo, hosted by founder Jeffrey Lee Cheatham II, a children's author and community mobilizer on the west coast. This particular platform was created for urban authors to showcase their works, to provide a place for urban literature in the Seattle community, and a location for Seattle's cultural folk to gather and communicate with one another.
With approximately 350 attendees and over 20 authors (including Omari Amilli, Key Porter, Amber Racks Kemp, Kenneth Thomas Senior, Sharon Black, Deon Abdullah, Kamari Bright, James D. Macon, the Seattle Escribe collective, Gui Chevalier, Zackery Driver, Stacey Marie Robinson--representing Kya Publishing--Aramis Hamer, Nyrel Ausler, Freddie McClain, and Natasha Rivers aka "N. Marie") the book fair was filled with opportunity for dialogue and book sales.
Cheatham presented two events leading up to the Book Expo, including a panel discussion at the local Seattle Public Library, as well as an author showcase. The enthusiasm for the event gains momentum with each mention and appearance, and it is becoming the cornerstone of his development of the urban book industry in Washington, as well as a means to socialization with his peers and community.
The commonalities between the legendary book fair in the heart of Harlem, and the fresh book fair in Seattle's historical Washington Hall? It was the feeling. The sense of belonging. The essence of self-empowerment as independent writers and publishers proudly presented their texts to the world. The recognition that both events were the culmination of months of planning, and years of vision, all while starting in finishing in just a few brief hours.
The book fairs claim spaces, and shape new traditions. They support individuals and bring them into a larger community of like-minded artists. The live music adds an element of a familiar shared cultural experience, and the food and community involvement is reminiscent of family gatherings and intimate memories.
Self-organization. Mass mobilization. These events--whether historical or emerging--are a reminder that this sub-section of cultural writing exists, and is consistently building and creating spaces for its permanent influence.
Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's Journal of Canadian Urban Fiction.