Monday, May 23, 2016

Oakland Book Festival

This weekend I traveled to Oakland, California to participate in its second annual Oakland Book Festival, on Sunday, May 22. Though I have traveled a number of times to the Bay Area over the last few years, I hadn't ventured to Oakland in over a decade and a half or more, so it was a treat to have a reason to return to the East Bay metropolis. The Oakland Book Festival, which convened a wide array of authors, publishers, booksellers, and Bay Area residents, is, I learned, a one-day non-corporate sponsored ideas fest, held in around Oakland's majestic City Hall, and the diversity and political salience of the panels and screenings, which ranged from the FBI's pursuit of African American writers to utopian thought today and the future of the family to the experiences of porn stars and sex workers, bore this out.
L-R: Manuel "Manolo" Callahan, Stefano Harney,
Fred Moten, Linda Norton, and two unknown attendees
at the Convivial Research panel
Author and radio host Justin Desmangles, who heads the Before Columbus Foundation, organized and moderated the panel on which I participated, on the theme of multiraciality in 21st CenturyAmerican literature. The other panelists were two highly acclaimed writers I know and admire so much, the married couple fiction and nonfiction Emily Raboteau and fiction and comics writer Victor LaValle. Our public conversation, of the afternoon's first, ranged widely, with explorations of capitalism's and slavery's influence on American literature today, the challenges writers of color, including President Barack Obama faced, of public racial representation, and the current political climate, including one of its most horrifying emanations, Donald J. Trump. I personally thought the exchanges, including the audience's comments and questions, were informative, and I loved the differing approaches Victor and Emily took. It was an honor to be in conversation with them, and Justin. Many thanks to everyone who came to hear us, including Tan Khanh Cao and D. Scott Miller, as well as Elmaz Abinader, whom I had the chance finally to meet, among many others. 
Rochelle and her colleague at Prison Lit Project
After our panel and a short stint signing copies of the newly issued paperback version of Counternarratives, I moseyed to some of the other panels, only to learn that festival organizers were very strict about adhering to occupancy code requirements, so I could not get into a number of panels I wanted to attend. In the interim I did run into a number of writers and publishers I admire, including Aaron Bady, Adam Levy and his partner Ashley Nelson Levy at Transit BooksMauro Javier Cárdenas, and Caille Milner. (Because of the booksigning I missed Mauro's and Caille's panel). I did manage, however, to slip into the "Working With Others: On Convivial Research" panel, featuring Manuel (Manolo) Callahan, Stefano Harney, and my friend and hero Fred MotenLinda Norton, whom I had the pleasure of chatting with a little earlier, and whose shared a copy of her exquisite book Public Gardens: Poems and History with me, served as moderator. I had never heard of convivial research, but by the time Callahan, Harney and Fred had finished defining and walking us through examples of it, I certainly did.
At McSweeney's table
I relished also having the opportunity to check out the booksellers' tables. One serendipitous encounter came when I happened upon writer, editor and critic Rochelle Spencer, who is doing great work with the Prisoners Literature Project. So great to see you! I keep vowing when attending book festivals that I will not buy any books, but the serendipity of new enchanting titles or the availability of ones I intended to buy once again overcame my willpower, and I bought enough books to fill a tote bag, which I mailed back to my university office rather than paying an extra bag fee to the airline bringing me home. I also got to chat with Brad Johnson, bookseller extraordinaire. Thanks so much to Diesel Books, which had copies of Counternarratives for sale (and whose pile of many was a pile of just a few by the time I returned later in the day--thank you, Diesel and readers!), and to Small Press Distributors, which had a trove of goodies I could not resist. Now I will have even more reading to catch up on this summer!

A few more photos from the festival:

Hip Hop for Change
Some of the booths
Booksellers and other vendors
At Diesel Books
Author signing
A familiar book at the center of
this photo
More books
Loviosa, advertising the
Harry Potter conference in
Las Vegas
LitQuake's booth
Nomadic Press's Open Mic

1 comment:

  1. An honor and pleasure to meet you, John. Seeing you paging through my book at the table was one of the nicest surprises ever. I'm glad I got to give you a freebie and glad you managed to get in to see Fred. I heard that many people were not allowed into the jam-packed room.