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Bronx Book Fair 2017

bronx beauty

I was excited to attend the Bronx Book Fair for the first time on May 6, 2017. This is the fifth year of this event, which is held at the Bronx Library Center. I was interested to hear from editors, authors, agents, and library administrators about the world of books, publishing, and accessing materials. All of the sessions were enlightening. 

Business of Writing

Kevin Larimer, the Editor-in-Chief of Poets and Writers Magazine, spoke first. He offered advice for authors who are attempting to get their work published. If you find literary magazines that they are fans of, perhaps the magazines would like your work as well. Also, small presses that you like may accept your work. Check which publishing houses your favorite authors have been published in for ideas of where to submit your writing.  

Michael Mejias is a literary agent. He told us that agents can help get your work published. They can guide your first draft so that it is presentable and more acceptable to publishing houses. Agents like to become your creative partners for this book and subsequent works. It is vital to learn to write a good query letter to entice agents or publishers to accept your work. Also, find an agent who works with your genre (eg. cookbooks, etc.)

Bronx Book Desert?

Robert Farrell from Lehman College moderated this panel. Melissa Cross Aquino (Bronx Community College), Noelle Santos, who is starting a literary and wine bar in the Bronx, Oren Teicher (American Booksellers Association (ABA) and Giselle Dixon (NYPL) participated in this conversation.

Farrell asked the panelists if the Bronx is indeed a book desert.

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Santos responded with an emphatic yes. Dixon mentioned that there are 35 branch libraries in the Bronx, and that sometimes people say that the Bronx is a book desert as a buzz word.

Farrell asked the participants to describe the relationship between bookstores and libraries. Why do we need bookstores?

Teicher lamented the dearth of bookstores in the Bronx. However, the United States as a nation has far fewer bookstores than European countries. Libraries and bookstores share a similar mission: to expose the public to ideas. However, bookstores are businesses so they are looking to make a profit. Having small businesses in the community is valuable because the money generated from sales re-circulates in the neighborhood. 

Aquino mentioned the fact that libraries were her second home as she was growing up in the Bronx. There, she learned to find books, love books, and find herself in books. However, at some point, she did not want to return the books. The sympathetic librarian told her about The Book Place, which was a bookstore around the corner. Bookstores add character to neighborhoods. At first, she was afraid of the electronic revolution and ebooks. However, her back started hurting with so many books in her pack, so she caved and started reading ebooks. 

Farrell asked Santos what inspired her to want to open a literary bar.

Santos relayed her work history as an accountant, which definitely comes in handy in terms of running a business. If she knew how much work it was going to be two years ago, she is not sure that she would have done it. However, it was very disappointing to her when Barnes and Noble left the Bronx since she lived at the store. Her first step was to contact ABA; they sent her a wonderful kit about how to open a bookstore, and she simply followed the instructions. She won second place in a New York start up competition. Then, she took a course in Florida for a week about owning a bookstore. There, she learned about investments and what skills she would need in order to make this happen. She is glad to have support from the Bronx, $150 K worth of support. She ran a crowd-funding campaign in order to raise the capital. She wants lenders to know that we have intellectuals in the Bronx and people who like to read.

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Farrell asked Dixon what the library is doing to promote reading.

Dixon responded that early literacy is a big initiative in the library currently. She loves the library, but there is nothing like having your own books. She believes that the library and bookstores are partners. We can increase the bilingual collections, since we want to serve readers of other languages and encourage language learning. We offer social events where people discuss literature and writing programs to promote creativity.

Farrell asked Teicher if bookstores are doing well.

Teicher told us that individual bookstores in the United States have grown over the past seven years, but they face much online competition. Existing stores are expanding their markets to new audiences, and the new owners tend to be younger with better technological skills. This is a very competitive business, since it is hard to win people's leisure time. Readers tend to act differently at different times; sometimes, they prefer ebooks and at other times they want the satisfaction of holding a tangible print tome or browsing library bookstacks. 

Aquino assigns online reading to her students in an online course. The class only meets in person once per month. She believes that people are besotted with over stimulation in today's social media environment. However, it is important to be quiet sometimes and get away from so much extraneous information. She likes Millenials because they are aware of what they want and need.

Teicher mentioned research that finds people have greater retention from print than electronic materials.

Farrell mentioned the important social aspect that a lit bar lends to the community.

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Santos did much marketing research to discover which visuals would appeal to her neighborhood. She wants to incorporate graffiti art in the interior to make people feel like they are in the Bronx. The wine is more of the social aspect. She wants to attract a younger crowd by incorporating hip hop into the place. She is a Millenial herself.

Farrell asked her to speak about her 400-member book club.

Santos related that part of her market research included discovering how much people would spend on books. She started a book club which turned into a monster. They have used meet-ups to meet in person. She plans to have a Mommy and me book club and other events to serve the needs of the community.

Dixon was happy to relay the information that the library is capable of hosting such book club events. We have space to promote reading. 

Aquino believes fervently that the Bronx definitely has a need and capacity for more bookstores. She looks forward to a time when she must choose from a plethora of options.

Farrell asked Teicher to distinguish the qualities of successful versus unsuccessful bookstores.

Teicher mentioned that more bookstores have recently popped up in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Population density definitely helps NYC in terms of potentially attracting customers.

Santos entirely welcomes the competition, and she is happy to help other would-be bookstore owners get started. She knows that she cannot serve the entire Bronx. In Denver, there exists a community of bookstores. There, it is easier to get big-name authors because they can visit many bookstores in the area. She wishes to open by the end of 2017 in the Hunts Point or Mott Haven area.

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Kevin Young and Poetry

Kevin Young, the director of the Schomburg Center, shared his poetry with us. He mentioned that the Schomburg recently acquired James Baldwin and Maya Angelou's papers. He read from his numerous books of poetry. One of his poems, Aunties, was about his family from Louisiana. Dear Darkness was a book that he started off by writing about memory, then it slowly morphed into a book of elegies. When his father died, he started writing more about food because it was a way to talk to his father. He grew up eating soul food, or just food, as they called it. He read more poems, including A Prayer to Black-Eyed Peas, Ode to Sweet Potato Pie, etc. Charity was a poem about cleaning up after his father's death, both literally and figuratively. I enjoyed his readings, which were full of emotion, and the man obviously has a way with words. His work was poignant and sweet.

LGBTQ Literature

This panel consisted of Imani Rashid, Meriam Rodriguez, Orlando Ferrand, and it was moderated by Charles Rice- Gonzalez (Hostos Community College).

Rashid began with a dispiriting story of how her work was stolen by an editor. The names of the characters were changed. In fact, she even heard the story being read aloud on television, and it hurt her to hear the work being credited to someone else. Unfortunately, this experience caused her to give up writing for two decades. Luckily, she found solace in the ability to self-publish a work on the celebration of Kwanzaa.

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Rodriguez completed a unique challenge to write a novel in 30 days with Nano Wrimo. She says that it was definitely an interesting experience. At first, she did not know if it was possible to complete since it was so much work. However, she persevered, and she is proud of the accomplishment. Unfortunately, the pressure to finish in such a short amount of time really limited the quality of the work. Under a crunched time limit, creativity is not as free to develop and flourish. She prefers to self-publish so that she does not have to market her work to publishing houses.

Ferrand previously worked at IBM as the Director of Communications. He speaks several languages, a skill which aided him in that job. He has found writing to be more helpful than all of the therapists in the world. Nowadays, self-publishing has become more acceptable, but he prefers to have a second set of eyes for his work.

Overall, this event was an interesting look into the book world of the Bronx. This annual event occurs at the Bronx Library Center every spring. Hope to see you there next year!

 

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