This Saturday brought the 6th Annual Jersey City Book Festival, "A Tale of Our Cities," sponsored by the Jersey City Public Library and the Jersey City Department of Cultural Affairs at beautiful Van Vorst Park in downtown Jersey City, which I must admit I had never heard about until 1) Evie Shockley mentioned it to me on Friday and 2) Vincent Czyz sent me an email alerting me that it was happening. If I count back 6 years, that brings me to 2008, so I would have missed it anyway every fall except for 2009, when I had a rare sabbatical and was back in Jersey City, but I don't remember a book fair then, and I try to pay attention to what's happening on this side of the river as much as I do the excitements across the Hudson.
Nevertheless, though its existence was news to me I went, stopped the various tables, and listened to part of a reading by one of our many local authors. More like the Harlem Book Fair and less like the Brooklyn Book Festival, the authors were preponderantly self-published, though some smaller houses were present, as was the Rutgers University Press, which was doing a brisk business, as I witnessed and as an author at a nearby table told me, though neither of the reps behind the cordillera of RUP books would deign even to look in my direction. (SAMO.) Given how many books I regularly buy, it was their loss. A local celeb, former Seton Hall University and Utah Jazz baller Luther Wright was present signing his book, as was author Steven Hart, whose book American Dictator seemed to be quite a draw. There was also a vibrant author lineup for children.
One of Jersey City's longtime publishers, Talisman House, which has issued vital volumes by Joseph Lease, William Bronk and others, is no longer based here and thus was not present; they have since moved to Greenfield, Massachusetts. I'm not sure if there are that many independent publishers (The Jersey Journal, Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine, Poohdolph, and a few others) in Jersey City, though I imagine there must be some in the surrounding areas--not counting, of course, the publishing capital of the United States, New York City--including Newark.
I hope that next year the organizers will beat the bushes and try to bring in more publishers, more local writers (I was surprised that none of the authors I know who teach at Jersey City-based or other local institutions like St. Peter's University, New Jersey City University, or Hoboken's Stevens Institute of Technology were on the roster, nor were Rutgers-Newark and New Brunswick colleagues, nor even were local schoolchildren; at the very least, a poetry slam or story-reading event would have been a great addition), and a greater presence of e-publishing and e-books.
While I was there the event appeared a bit sparsely attended, but I attribute this mostly to the scant publicity. Given the like nice end-of-summer/early fall weather, the ambience of the park, the sizable elevated gazebo and stage, and the ample space, a livelier, better attended book fair is possible. Once Word comes to town, perhaps they'll help jumpstart things. Meanwhile, for an example of a jam-packed (to the point of daze-inducing) book festival, there's that gathering next weekend in Brooklyn.
|Vincent Czyz and his lovely wife|
|An author speaking to a reader|
(the author had written a huge book
about how NYC schoolkids had predicted
the global financial collapse)
|Booksellers and an outreach table|
|Rutgers University Press's table|
|Reading on the gazebo|
|A children's book author|