Friday, May 31, 2013

BookExpo America 2013

Looking down at the main exhibition floor, BEA 2013
Looking at the main floor of the BEA
Every year, around this time, I have heard tales told of Book Expo America (BEA) the giant annual book trade fair held at the Jacob Javits Center, on the far edge of Midtown Manhattan, but I until this year I had never been able to attend. A four-day and costly event, the fair convenes most of the major and numerous mid-sized and small US publishers, many from overseas, agents, distributors, authors, artists, librarians, and book lovers, who were present in droves despite the mid-summer temperatures that turned the sidewalks into a griddle and the glass walls of the air-conditioned Javits Center into magnifying glasses. I believe there were academics present too, though far fewer operating solely in that role than you might find at the Associated Writing Programs or Modern Language Association conferences, neither of which has the commercial or global feel of BEA.
Congressman John Lewis signing a comic book, BEA 2013
Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) signing his comic book
Hero Congressman John Lewis handing a signed book to a fan, BEA 2013
Congressman Lewis
In fact, the BEA thrums with the sensation of real-world, real-time significance; the numbers of people huddled at tables hashing out whatever they're hashing out, the sizable section of digital and electronic consulting companies seeking to bring the trade into the 21st century, the half-closed publishing house curtains where big deals and planning were taking place, the numerous people pumping up potential books to the houses ("I'm sorry," one young woman at Taschen told another, "but we don't commonly give out editors' email addresses," in response to a query about a book idea she had), and so forth, made the sometimes grueling, often joyful experience of writing--dreaming, planning, writing, revising, revising again, revising again, etc.--feel both infinitesimally small and indescribably important. To put it another way, writers could, in the scheme of this hurdy-gurdy of excitement and high stakes almost appear forgotten, and yet also, without authors, would any of this be possible? (Of course there are some who might answer yes, but....) Moreover, all authors, of all types, were present here. Some who'd never been seen anywhere near academe, as well as others who are paragons of literature and creative writing classes, were present. There were many long lines for authors I'd never heard of, which means I need to get out and read more widely, but there also were on display books by authors I deeply admire who probably don't get read as much as they ought to. But someone is publishing, and someone is reading their work.

11th Ave. & Jacob Javits Ctr, NYC
The Javits Center, at left (Columbus Circle in the distance)
Mexico book area, BEA 2013
Mexican publishing and book section
No surprise in the numerous hierarchies on display, most visibly the size and elaborateness of booths and sections based on the size and financial might of the publishers, and the prioritization of commercial and genre fiction and nonfiction over literary fiction, poetry, drama and other literary forms (which was quite rare in some precincts), nor was the frostiness of some of the publishing types a surprise either. (Others, however, were quite pleasant, and the micro-climates of attitude meant that I could pass from spaces where publishing staff did not even look in my direction to lively conversations with editors and reps from presses like Duke or Yale or Biblioasis or New York Review.) And it additionally was not a surprise, though a bit disappointing, that nearly all the publishing representatives, like the authors whose booksignings I noted, except for a very few cases (one of which I'll mention below), were by white, at a time when the country is growing ever more diverse. But there were glimmers, and I must note that, perhaps heartening to VIDA, the organization that champions women writers and equality in the literary world, the majority of authors I saw greeting customers and signing books were women. (The actual numbers, however, may be different, but I am going off my rough count.) I had heard that people brought suitcases to cart off the free books and swag (bookbags, blow-up toys, maps, pens, corporate-branded bric-a-brac of all kinds, beer, etc.), yet I didn't believe it, then I saw person after person not only lugging around book-heavy bags and backpacks, but yes, wheeled suitcases, and I realized, that was certainly foresight (or learned experience at a prior BEA). I didn't need a suitcase, but I did bring back two full bookbags full of books, some of them so interesting I started paging through them on the subway and PATH, and a number of which I selected in part because I very well may be able to incorporate them in future classes.

Elizabeth Gilbert signing her book, BEA 2013
Elizabeth Gilbert, signing her new book
Paula Deen, signing an ad for her next book
There were a few star types there (Tony Kushner, actor Jim Carrey, etc.), but the highlight for me was meeting and chatting a little with Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), one of America's true heroes, and a signal figure in the US Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He is the sort of person I always imagine will be so heavily thronged it would be impossible to get near him, but there was a small line and I was able to ask him to sign a comic book he had co-authored and then talk with him, letting him know not only that his name had come up in my recent class, but how much an inspiration he and his generation are for my students and me. I also thanked him for his bravery, courage and vision, in essence thanking his generation and those before him who had blazed the paths I and so many can walk down today, and together we noted that the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington was approaching, and that the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation was only a few months before, an amazing confluence that also pointed toward future goals and gains. I probably could have left after meeting him, but I instead did walk the entire main hall, collect books, take a sip of champagne (it was free), and admit to myself that being in an environment filled with free books and readers was a pretty enjoyable place to be.

Tony Kushner signing books, BEA 2013
The amazing Tony Kushner, signing books
Jim Carrey, signing a flyer (?)
Okey Ndibe signing his book at BEA 2013
Brown Univ. prof. Okey Ndibe, signing his book
George C. Fraser, BEA 2013
Author and success champion, George C. Frasier
Aisle 1900, BEA 2013
Aisle 1900, with presses on either side
Chinese Publications booth, BEA 2013
Chinese publishing booth
Kobo eReader booth, BEA 2013
Kobo eReader booth
Spain book section, BEA 2013
Spain's publishing area
Author Marek Krajewski at BEA 2013
Polish author Marek Krajewski, with
translator (in red) and fan
Artbooks area, BEA 2013
The art books section (one of several)
Author Landau and his lovely wife
Author Landau, and his lovely wife
One of many long lines for a book signing
One of the reserved areas, BEA
Publishers' curtained off private areas
Free cupcakes from Disney, BEA
Free cupcakes, from Disney
Boxes of books waiting to be shipped, BEA 2013
Books and other items, waiting to be shipped home

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