Post Number: 7
|Posted on Monday, July 19, 2004 - 11:33 pm: |
I think this assessment is overly optimistic and short-sighted, but that's just me. Many of those exhibiting at the HBF make miniscule donations of $$ and personnel to the fair and reluctant to hire and PROMOTE POC within their companies. Here's hoping that the fair will continue to expand and inspire and maybe one day result in long-term good.
Book boom in Harlem
An uptown street fair dedicated to reading makes publishers take notice
BY KATTI GRAY
July 19, 2004
In its first year, 1999, the Harlem Book Fair attracted 49 exhibitors and 1,200 patrons, but big publishing houses, ever mindful of their balance sheets, had barely a presence.
"It was as if they said, 'We'll wait and see,'" said the fair's creator, Max Rodriguez, who sought donations that inaugural year from dozens of corporations; he got $1,500 checks from each of three publishers.
"In the second year," he continued, "it was, 'We'll support you.' In the third, it was, 'This is a good thing for us,' as measured in their participation and their providing authors. They're seeing us as a promotional tool."
By 2003, with 30,000 mainly black patrons and 200 exhibitors turning out, the fair was televised on C-SPAN. When the four-day event launches for a sixth time on Tuesday, with a "Strolling on Lenox" block party, Rodriguez expects more than 40,000 people to come through, looking to expand their book collections and hear the ruminations of famous and lesser-known authors whose works center on such themes as politics, spirituality, health, wealth, relationships, family dysfunction and reconciliation.
The mounting appeal of the uptown festival - 330 exhibitors will take over 135th Street between Fifth Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard on Saturday - suggests to Rodriguez and other publishing industry insiders and trend-trackers that black authors and black readers are steadily influencing a marketplace that had once discounted black reading preferences and buying power. Chicago-based Target Market News, a marketing, media and research firm, reports that dollars spent by blacks on books rose to $326 million in 2003 from $258 million in 1996. (Its reports are based on U.S. Department of Commerce figures.)
Those figures are reflected, some say, in how the Harlem fair has extended its reach beyond New York City.
Fair pulls from East Coast
"What we discovered with the Harlem fair, unlike those in other cities, is that people do travel here from Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, nearby cities with a dense black population," said Bryan Christian, marketing manager for Simon & Schuster, which will be a fair underwriter for a third consecutive year. "It's a perfect venue for getting our authors before a huge audience of their core readership and to bring new readers in."
Joining Simon & Schuster in helping to finance the 2004 event are Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins and Perseus. The book festival, which runs until 6 p.m Saturday, includes a Friday evening salute to Chinua Achebe, Maya Angelou, Maryse Conde and Terry McMillan at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The four are slated to accept their awards.
The Harlem Book Fair will travel to Nassau County's Freeport Recreation Center on Sept. 3 and 4, San Diego on Sept. 10 and 11, Phoenix on Dec. 12 and 13 and Oakland, Calif., on Feb. 25 and 26. Book lovers from the locales outside New York contacted Rodriguez about restaging the fair in their cities - a sign, he and others say, that the appetites of black readers might be holding steady, even as reading is suffering an overall decline in the United States.
A National Endowment for the Arts survey released this month recorded a 10 percent decrease between 1982 and 2000 in the number of people who say they read literature, which translates into a fall-off of 20 million.
Clara Villarosa, president of Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem and founder of the African- American Booksellers Conference, questions whether the study accurately assesses trends among black readers.
"If our numbers dropped, they've not dropped that much," said Villarosa. "A lot of our reading isn't tracked. A lot of our book-buying is done on the streets, and that cannot be tracked."
A rich serving of writers
Her store will host a children's pavilion Saturday, when adult activities will include discussions involving more than 150 author-panelists, including Michael Baisden, Amiri Baraka, Derrick Bell, Colin Channer, Ossie Davis, Michael Eric Dyson, J.L. King, Spike Lee, Haki Madhubuti, Manning Marable, Hugh Masakela, Jill Nelson, Elizabeth Nunez, Ishmael Reed, Ilyasah Shabazz, Brooke Stephens, Zane and Juan Williams. Also on Saturday are performances by actor- comedian Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, folkloric ensemble Songhai Djeli, local spoken-word artists and more. Sunday, there will be an authors' brunch.
The fair is an offshoot of QBR: The Black Book Review, an 11-year-old magazine also founded by Rodriguez, who previously programmed computers for the telephone company.
"I'd pick up The New York Times book review section and turn to the table of contents to see what books looked like me and, more times than not, none of them did," he said. "For me, there was a clear need."
Proof of that need lies in the growing popularity of the Harlem fair, said Lynette Velasco, president of Black Americans in Publishing.
"Quite simply," said Velasco, a Brooklyn-based writer of children's books, "it is a cash-cow testament to the fact that we read. We read, our children read, and we read to our children."
Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.