Archive for the ‘bookstores’ Category


Balancing Creativity and Commerce in Caribbean Literary Expression


Marva Allen – CEO of Hue-man Bookstore, and co-publisher of Open Lens an imprint of Akashic Books

Crystal Bobb-Semple – owner of Brownstone Bookstore

Ron Kavanaugh – founder and managing editor of Mosaic Literary Magazine, exploring the literary arts created by writers of African descent

Summer Edward – founder and managing editor of Anansesem, Caribbean children’s literature ezine

Victoria Brown, author, Grace in the City – Moderator  

Culture Making – Literature that Defines Us  (Under 8 yrs)
Shabana Sharif (US/Guyana), “Ins and Out of Queens”
Tiphanie Yanique (Virgin Is), “I am the Virgin Islands”
Ibi Zoboi (Haiti), “A is for Ayiti”
Memory and Myth – Rooted in history and the fantastical
(8 – 15 yrs)
Tracey & Harmony Pierre (US/Haiti)
Clyde Viechweg (Grenada), “CaribbeanTwilight; Tales of the Supernatural”
Off Island – Journeys in time and place 
(Teens – Young Adults)
Zetta Elliott (St. Kitts-Nevis), “Ship of Souls”
Devon Harris (Jamaica), “Yes I Can”
Workshops & Special Presentations
Illustration, Graphic & Costume Design, Steel Pan Demonstration; Storytelling
Where We’re From – Identity and Influence
Carmen Bardeguez-Brown (Puerto Rico), “Straight from the Drum”
Etaniel Ben Yehuda (US/Trinidad & Tobago), “The Chronicles of Air, Water, and the Source”
Anna Ruth Henriques (Jamaica), “The Book of Mechtilde”
Monica Matthew (Antigua & Barbuda), “Journeycakes:  Memories with my Antiguan Mama”
Memory and Myth – Our History Clings to Us


Keisha Gay Anderson (Jamaica)

Lynn Grange (Trinidad & Tobago),

“Freedom and the Cashew Seed”

Petra Lewis (Trinidad & Tobago), “Sons and Daughters of Ham”

Bernice McFadden (US/Barbados),

“Nowhere is a Place”

Off Island – Migration and Displacement


Elsie Agustave (Haiti), “The Roving Tree”

Elizabeth Nunez (Trinidad & Tobago), “Boundaries”

Sandra Ottey (Jamaica), “Runaway Comeback”

Get Up Stand Up – Texts of Empowerment


Deborah Jack (St Martin/St Maarten)

Rosamond King (US/Gambia/Trinidad), “At My Belly and My Back”

Hermina Marcellin (St. Lucia)

David Mills (US/Jamaica), “The Sudden Country”

Ras Osagyefo (Jamaica), “Psalms of Osagyefo”

Jive Poetic (US/Jamaica)

Maria Rodriguez (US/Puerto Rico)


Program, schedule and writers subject to change without notice.
Brooklyn Caribbean Youth Fest
Caribbean American Sports & Cultural Youth Movement (CASYM)
Friends of the Antigua Public Library
Mosaic Literary Magazine
St. Martin/St. Maarten Friendship Association
Tropical Fete Mas Camp

Union of Jamaica Alumni Associations (UJAA)

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imagesIf you were at the NYPL yesterday for Betsy Bird’s Children’s Literature Salon then you know that we had a full house (all 80 seats were filled!) and people came ready to both listen and share their insights and experiences. Betsy is an expert moderator, which made it easy for those of us on the panel to share our thoughts on diversity in children’s literature. I met editor Connie Hsu for the first time, and learned about how her experience growing up in Alabama continues to influence her decisions as an editor. Connie’s aware of the importance of tradition but she’s also looking for what’s new, which is encouraging. I was *so* excited to finally meet Sofia Quintero, fierce author/filmmaker/activist and cancer survivor—I had to stop myself from reaching over to high-five her every time she made a brilliant point about the coded terms (“mainstream,” “cross-over”) used to conceal racialized power dynamics in publishing. Sofia works with Book Up and she told us about an experience taking a group of kids from the Bronx into the Barnes & Noble in Tribeca. “Why are there more pictures of zombies on book covers than people of color?” After the panel ended, I met Allie Jane Bruce, a children’s librarian at Bankstreet College of Education who let me know that she works with children who are just as outraged about the lack of diversity in publishing. I’m hoping to meet those young people and hear about their strategies for creating change. During the Q&A session we revisited the issue of David Levithan’s Teen Author Festival, which continues to be overwhelmingly white despite repeated complaints. So how DO we create change?

makers_women640_mediumI watched Makers: Women Who Make America last week and at the end of the 3-hour documentary on the women’s movement found myself feeling rather blue. A couple of black feminists were included in the film and one Latina, but no Asian Americans and no American Indians. It was basically white middle-class women talking about white middle-class women. One scholar was asked to identify the movement’s limitations and she said that the feminist movement had failed to address the needs of working-class women, which has only increased the suffering of women and children living in poverty. White middle-class women have a long history of working with people of color to create change (abolition, the civil rights movement), but there have also been times when white women chose to throw people of color under the bus in order to preserve their own privilege. White middle-class women seem to dominate the children’s publishing industry, and so it was heartening to have several white women approach me after the panel to share their activism and/or to ask about where to start. When white women rise up, they’re a formidable force so I do hope we can stir them out of complacency and into action. We need more allies!

Speaking of allies, it was great to see Lyn Miller-Lachmann at yesterday’s event. Lyn is an award-winning YA author and core committee member of See What We See, the social justice advocacy group that generated a lot of interest during the panel. She’s got a new book, Rogue, coming out next month and I was thrilled to get a copy yesterday. Please support the writers who are fighting for change!

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Up at 2am. I’ve *never* had insomnia like this before. Once a month I’ll have a restless night but I’ve never found myself progressively losing sleep like this. It was happening in Brooklyn, too—over the past couple of months I started to wake at six, then five, then four. So what could it mean? Around 4am this morning I decided that it must be related to my ancestor search. Each time I find another generation and reach farther into the past, I lose an hour of sleep! The only good thing about this is that I have moments of lucidity while self-directing my waking dreams. I realized this morning that I want to open a museum. Not just an arts center, but a museum. What I haven’t found here in Nevis so far is a critical, comprehensive examination of slavery. The perspective of colonizers and slave owners is still being privileged—the one ghost story that’s mentioned in the tourist material I’ve gathered is a white woman whose fiance shot her brother in a duel and then proposed to another woman. So she shut herself up in her great house and now haunts the crumbling remains. THAT is the ghost story we’re supposed to care about? I realize the intent is not to alienate tourists who are primarily white, but I think it’s a mistake to assume that whites don’t want to know the truth about slavery. In fact, the greater risk is getting too deep, too graphic, and turning the past into another kind of exotic artifact. I mean, we have to have a conversation about language—what’s in a name? Why does the word “plantation” trigger positive associations for tourists and negative associations for me? I can already see a panel in my museum that will list “Ways to Be a Better Tourist.” All the grant-writing experience I’ve been accumulating will come in handy because I’ll need a major grant to make this happen. Everything prepares you for what’s next. I’ve been teaching this course on neo-slave narratives, and now I can select the best slavery novels for my museum bookstore. I’m going to enlarge those slave registers and line the walls with them. I’ll find an artist to develop a rendition of the mass suicide that took place in 1736 when 100 slaves jumped from the Prince of Orange slave ship anchored off the coast of Nevis. The history book I’m reading suggests it was a “cruel joke” that prompted an enslaved man to board the ship with his owner and tell the slaves that they were to be eaten once they were taken ashore. Maybe what he really said was, “Life as a slave on this island is unbearable,” and the newly arrived Africans decided death was the better option.

Ok, I better get myself ready to go. Alexander Hamilton House, lunch with Amba, and then all that other stuff. And maybe another nap on the beach…

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I will never again book 20 school visits for one month! but I’m grateful for each and every opportunity to meet students and educators across the city. Yesterday I spent the morning at a school in Park Slope and after my presentation on Ship of Souls, I was treated to a feast—the parents put out *quite* a spread, and I was seated in a virtual throne with the kids ringed around me. Overhead dangled the names of their ancestors and loved ones who had passed on—the kids *and* their teacher were so serious about the concept of life after death. We shared ghosts stories and no one was freaked out; they fully accepted that the realm of spirits and the realm of the living sometimes merge…amazing! That particular class was remarkable in another way: every month their teacher walks them over to Barnes & Noble and they BUY a book to read as a class! You know I have issues with books being given away for free to low-income kids; I think it’s important to develop book-buying habits, and this teacher has found the way! When I asked if she encountered any resistance from the mainly black and Latino parents, she laughed. “One child was sent with $100!” Where there’s a will, there’s a way…

Speaking of ancestors, another luminary from the kidlit community has sadly passed on. Leo Dillon, illustrator extraordinaire and partner to fellow illustrator Diane Dillon, made his transition a few days ago. I got to meet the Dillons at the 2010 A Is for Anansi conference at NYU. His legacy will live on in all the breathtakingly beautiful images he created with his wife over his lifetime. Rest in peace…

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Grading. Grading on the subway. Grading while on line at the burrito place. Grading before going to bed and again first thing in the morning. Sigh. I took a stack of papers with me to France but didn’t make much progress, in part because I got off the plane with a cold. The south of France is lovely but French culture doesn’t really work for me: I don’t drink or smoke, I hate baguette, I’m not crazy about little dogs, and I can’t eat cheese. Sitting at a packed outdoor cafe doesn’t appeal to this solitary Scorpio, and so when I first arrived on Wednesday, I actually wished I could speed up the clock. I don’t like to travel alone, and as a woman—and a woman of color—with only limited French, I felt insecure in Aix-en-Provence (though I generally found the people to be friendlier than Parisians). It’s a pretty town (photo above is Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur d’Aix) but it seems people mostly go there to shop, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. I got some ibuprofen and vitamin C from the pharmacy and spent the first couple of nights recuperating at the hotel. Then Laura arrived on Friday and everything changed—I had a running buddy! A sounding board. A friend. I’m not a big talker but whenever Laura and I get together, we find endless issues to discuss: teaching, grading, the pros and cons of being in the academy, the pros and cons of US & UK publishing, immigration, ambition, relationships. And the conference itself, of course, which was interesting and really well organized. I think both our papers were well received, and we met some interesting people, including American graphic artist/illustrator/professor John Jennings whose hotel room was right across from ours. We ate at Chez Grandmere Friday night and had “authentic Provencale cuisine.” The next day we checked out the local bookstores, ambled through the outdoor market, and had pizza in a candlelit, cobble-stoned corner of Aix. We shared our family histories and projected where we’d be in five years. John requires students in his hip hop visuals class to come up with a tag—“What would yours be?” I woke up this morning trying to answer that question. I think I’ve settled on “bittersweet” or “bittasweet,” though it’s probably not wise to pick a tag that can be reduced to “b.s.” This morning I was at the central branch of the BPL listening to the amazing poetry my two middle school classes created. During our second workshop I asked them to circle ten words that represented the essence of a special memory. A tag is sort of like your essence—if you had to reduce yourself to ONE word, what would it be? I thought about “scribe” but that seemed too one-dimensional. I like bittersweet because it represents contradiction but also balance. In my third workshop with the students I asked them to make two lists: words others would use to describe them, and words they would use to describe themselves. “Sweet” isn’t a word that would appear on either of my lists, but I like “bittasweet” because there’s at least a little sugar in me…though these days I’m so stressed out that I’m consuming more sugar than I really need. While I was in France I got thirty emails a day, including two stressful surprises: the book I plan to write about African American YA speculative fiction is going to be announced later this spring at another conference (never mind that I haven’t actually finished the proposal), and the editors of an anthology on urban children’s literature asked me to contribute a chapter (by June). Trouble is, I haven’t had any time just to write for myself and that’s why the “bitter” is threatening to overwhelm the “sweet” in me. I don’t even have time to record all the details of my time in France. I made a dozen mental notes but can’t remember half of them now: sugar cubes in the shape of hearts, Lionel Richie’s “Hello” and the theme from Flashdance playing on the shuttle bus radio, a thin sliver of a moon in a starless sky. On the flight back to NYC I watched Puss ‘n Boots and (when I wasn’t laughing my head off) nearly wept at some of the coloring—I remember seeing a Maxfield Parrish exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and having a similar reaction. How do you capture the color of a child’s dream? Do illustrations teach us how to dream? I need to write but can’t afford to let myself drift. Not until spring break. I had tea with a friend this afternoon and she reminded me that there is a time to “frolic” and a time to work. What matters most is that you apply yourself fully to every task, trusting that you will be changed by the experience. I think that’s what worries me…

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remix at the mall

R. Gregory Christie is an exceptional artist and a wonderful person—please take a moment to learn more about this exciting new project: a store/studio with a focus on kids, books, and art! You can learn about his fundraising efforts at Kickstarter. Here’s a description of the project in Greg’s own words:
After doing children’s books for over fifteen years, I have decided to take my passion for history and culture to the next level.
I am opening up a bookstore and gift shop in Decatur, Georgia (inside of North Dekalb Mall). Although the lease is signed as of a few days ago, the store will officially open up in April. It will feature my children’s books along with tangible handmade products for sale. It’s my desire to make the space as appealing as the trendiest sneaker store, but instead of the newest gadget or latest $30,000 pair of sneakers, I want to have a heavy focus on books.
I will use this space as a live painting studio to work on children’s books and canvases but I will also coordinate weekend workshops to be held right inside of the mall.  Everything from quilt making to dj-ing , the focus is to make people of all ages appreciative of their inner artist and to give the many teens walking around the complex something to do.
Consider it a store, my own personal passion, and a community space. However, Georgia has quite an expensive process to open a small business. Although I have covered many of the costs, I’d like to make the space stunning. So I humbly reach out to you, hoping that you’ll be willing to be a part of this as a well wisher, sponsor, or promoter.
Learn more about Kickstarter‘s all or nothing sponsorship.
Thanks in advance!R. Gregory Christie


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I have to say I was more than a little concerned when I saw the anti-Amazon vitriol on Facebook last week—especially when those angry sentiments were coming from people responsible for reviewing books for children. I wrote my own post about it, but I was thrilled when Debby Dahl Edwardson let me know that she had written an incredibly thoughtful post about Amazon’s recent acquisition of Marshall Cavendish titles, including her own acclaimed novel My Name Is Not Easya National Book Award Finalist that is nonetheless hard to find in your local bookstore:

People can go ahead and say what they please about Amazon but at least they’re not killing our books by not selling them. Amazon is very democratic this way: they sell everything. Yes, the move into publishing is a game changer. But then again, maybe the game needed changing.

I couldn’t agree more. Right now our team is working on book recommendations for the Birthday Party Pledge site. Should we link each title to Amazon.com? Are consumers likely to find these great multicultural books for kids at their local big chain or indie bookstore? Probably not. I really wish people who are concerned with ethical business practices would have more to say about the institutional racism in traditional publishing that marginalizes so many important voices…

An article in The New York Times reports that math scores (on Department of Education standardized tests) have improved over the past twenty years but reading scores have stayed about the same:

Reading achievement, in contrast, reflects not only the quality of reading instruction in school classrooms, they said, but also factors like whether parents read to children and how much time students read on their own outside school. And many children in the United States are spending less time reading on their own.

Since 1992, reading scores have gone up but not by much; in 2011 only 34% of fourth grade students were proficient at reading:

“I’m disappointed but not surprised by these results,” said Sharon Darling, founder of the National Center for Family Literacy, a group based in Kentucky that works to help parents support their children’s educational efforts at home.  “Children spend five times as much time outside the classroom as they do in school, and our country has 30 million parents or caregivers who are not good readers themselves, so they pass illiteracy down to their children.”

That’s not the kind of legacy you want to leave behind. Stay tuned for the official launch of our literacy initiative…

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Did you hear about the stampedes that took place all around the country over the release of $180 “retro” Air Jordans? I was already thinking about launching a new literacy initiative but this news prompted me to act sooner rather than later. According to a recent article in The Root, African American buying power is approaching $1.1 trillion. Target Market News breaks down the consumer data to show that in 2009, African Americans spent $321 million on books—that’s a lot of money, but it’s clear that a lot more money was spent on other goods and services (including $2.8 billion on non-alcoholic beverages). So how do we get people to invest more money in books? I’d love to poll all those people who lined up for sneakers last night and find out just how many books they have in their home. Because we know that having a home library increases a child’s chance of succeeding in school. Buying sneakers is not an investment—buying books IS. But I’m not trying to guilt parents into surrendering their sneakers and video games or any of the other things on which they spend their disposable income. Instead I think we should take a “village” approach. If you know a child who’s growing up without books, do something about it when that child’s birthday rolls around. If you want to buy toys for your child, then ask your family and friends to buy books so that your child gets the best of both worlds. I’m hoping people will take the Birthday Party Pledge and commit to giving books as gifts for at least ONE year. I’ve set up a new site and we hope to do an official launch in 2012. Do you think we can convince people to take the pledge?

I’m thoroughly enjoying my low-consumption Christmas and hope you’re enjoying the holidays, too!

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This is our second day of December rain but I’m still trying to feel festive—right now I’m baking cookies for my students and last night I hung my wreath on the front door. I also got a special delivery today—advance reader copies of my next novel! So far I’ve been presented with two covers and neither one fully captured the essence of Ship of Souls. It’s an urban ghost story so the cover needs to be gritty yet magical…they’re still working on it. In the meantime, this plain cover doesn’t thrill me but I’ll now be able to share the book with family and friends. If you’re an educator or librarian or book blogger and you’re already on my list, you should be getting your ARC in the next week or so (directly from the publisher). If we haven’t met but you’d like to check the book out, just leave me a comment.

Amazon made a big announcement this week and the reactions have been interesting. If you like my writing and want to check out Ship of Souls, you should know that some booksellers are vowing never to sell any book published by Amazon. I respect the right of others to stand up for what they believe is right—I just wish we could generate as much outrage over the racism that excludes so many unique voices from the traditional publishing industry. I also can’t help but wonder how many of those indie booksellers stock children’s books by black authors. How many stock books by Lee & Low—can you find Bird in those stores? And how many are open to self-published authors? I want a publishing industry where readers and writers have options. When one door closes, you’re not completely shut out because you can always try another. As I said in my acknowledgments:

I want to thank my agent, Faith Childs, who read the manuscript and responded with enthusiasm and encouragement. I also thank her for persisting in an industry where doors and minds are so often closed to writers like me.

Lastly I thank the AmazonEncore team for keeping their door open.

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When I heard that the one store left untouched during the recent riots in London was a bookstore, my heart sank. This article in The Guardian asks all the right questions, including this one: “Are you more or less likely to riot if you read?”

Maybe it’s just a question of class. As the author Gavin James Bower says, “Jobs in publishing overwhelmingly go to white, middle-class people. The product reflects this, which isn’t much good if you’re a working-class kid.” If publishing is full of white, middle-class people is it any wonder that bookshops are too? The writing community can be as diverse as it likes – in class, race, religion and genre – but if publishers don’t know how to market these books, they’re not going to find readers. Or maybe it starts even earlier, in school, where according to the journalist Kieran Yates “young people often don’t feel like they can empathise with a syllabus of literature that is so far removed from their own lives”.

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