Saturday, July 23, 2011

Harlem Book Fair, 2011

Today C and I headed up to Harlem to attend the annual Harlem Book Fair (HBF).  Sponsored by QBR: The Black Book Review and located along several blocks of 135th Street near the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, at Malcolm X Boulevard, HB brings together publishers of all sizes, from major houses to single-volume self-published authors; readers from across the New York area; and arts and crafts vendors.  It includes panels inside the Schomburg building, panels at the nearby Countee Cullen Branch of the NYPL, workshops at the Thurgood Marshall Academy, and outdoor readings and performances, including a number geared specifically towards children. Particularly noteworthy in my opinion was this year's HBF Digital Village Outdoor Stage, which featured a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) E-Book Party. Though we were there, we were busy browsing the tables, so we missed it, but I had brought along my iPad just in case....

I've been attending the book fair for many years now, having participated in readings and panel discussions in the past, and this year's outdoor market portion of the fair appeared to be the smallest in terms of vendors' booths that I can remember. There seemed to be fewer total booths than in previous years and fewer booths by the bigger New York-based publishing houses (though Penguin, one of the sponsors, held a prime location) and bookstores, with the outdoor fair taking up only two long blocks instead of three as it had in the past. I chalked this up to the poor economy and the changing publishing and bookselling industries; this week Borders Group went under.  Perhaps it was the 102F heat, but there also appeared to be fewer people milling about as well.  Nevertheless, the authors and booksellers who were present were to talk about and sell their work, and some smaller publishers offered ample catalogues and backlists suggesting they were beating or at least staying ahead of the economic sharks. In general I found invigorating to see the enthusiasm in and for black writing and publishing; so often at mainstream writing-related events in New York or elsewhere in the US, except perhaps in Atlanta, black authors, readers, and publishers remain an afterthought, and the Harlem Book Fair always serves as a counterweight to this.

That said, the books on sale mostly appeared to fall into several distinct categories--popular black street and prison fiction, redemption narratives, romances, children's books (including many written as comics or in graphic format), and self-help and financial-help books--that were less diverse than in previous years. I saw fewer books of poetry, history, politics and political philosophy, creative nonfiction and journalism, economics, and the visual and performing arts. I also noted fewer graphic novels and comics, and fewer texts dealing with LGBTQ topics. There also appeared to be a gulf between books published by the big and mid-sized presses, in all genres, and self-published or small-press works. Works by most of the black poets and fiction writers, and by nearly all the black academics I know, were nowhere on display, thus giving attendees only a partial view of the rich array of books published by black authors or on black topics out there.

We did not attend any of the panels this year, but they looked to be as engaging as they usually are, and ranged from discussions of Barack Obama's first few years to contemporary Black British writing. Given how diverse the black and non-black communities are in Harlem and how Black America continues to diversify, I was also surprised by the paucity, except among the arts vendors, of more examples of this. Perhaps it's just my misperception, but in previous years there seemed to be more books focusing on or by African authors and topics.  With the large Latino population, especially Afrolatinos, living in or neighboring areas of Manhattan and the Bronx, I was also surprised there were not more Spanish-language books and events.  Perhaps as Harlem and surrounding areas continue to diversify, this will change too. So perhaps will the types of publishers who are present, and perhaps there will be a larger e-book and digital presence in the future; simulcasting and streaming some of the events so that they're available to attendees with digital devices might be a great addition to consider for next year.

Some photographs of the event:
Dr. Julianne Malveaux @ Harlem Book Fair
Dr. Julianne Malveaux, about to sign her new book
Poet & fiction writer G. Winston James
Poet and fiction writer G. Winston James
Author & activist Dr. Heru Kuti
Author and activist Dr. Heru Kuti
Ericka Williams's A Woman Scorned
Speakers encouraging young readers
Speakers entertaining and informing young readers at the Youth Tent
Author Alterick Gaston @ Harlem Book Fair
Author Alterick Gaston
Sabrina Carter and Jerry Craft at the Baby Ellington/Mama's Boys table
Sabrina Carter of Baby Ellington and Jerry Craft of Mama's Boys
Geoffrey McClanahan's booth @ Harlem Book Fair
Geoffrey McClanahan's booth
Author LeRoy Dukes @ Harlem Book Fair
LeRoy Dukes, shaking a fan's hand
Author Kontrena Clark @ Harlem Book Fair
Kontrena Clark, in a wedding dress, to promote her book (it got me to stop and photograph her!)
Author Ronald Richardson @ Harlem Book Fair
Ronald Richardson with some of his work
Angelic Script Publishing table @ Harlem Book Fair
Angelic Script Publishing's table
Artist Dred-Scott Keyes 
Artist Dred-Scott Keyes

  Looking west @ Harlem Book Fair
The busy market on 135th Street
Hawking a newspaper
Hawking a newspaper
Cartel Publications table
Cartel Publication's booth
An author at the Sable table
At the table featuring Black British journal Sable magazine
Akashic Books @ Harlem Book Fair
Akashic Books table
In front of the Schomburg Center
In front of the Schomburg Center
The crowd in front of the Schomburg Center @ Harlem Book Fair
In front of the Schomburg Center
At the wares section of the fair
Some of the artwork on display
An artist and vendor at work, at right @ Harlem Book Fair
An artist and vendor at work

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