BLK INK Book Festival – New Orleans creates a space where all writers can thrive.
BLK INK Book Festival — New Orleans Exhibitor, Children’s Book Author Stephanie Anne White
In 1859 the first novel by a Black person was published in the United States. The story, ‘Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black’ by author Harriet E. Adams Wilson, traces the trials and tribulations of Frado, a mulatto girl abandoned by her white mother after the death of her black father. Frado grows up as an indentured servant to a white family in nineteenth-century Massachusetts.
Long thought to be the work of a white author, Wilson’s novel was lost for over 100 years until 1983 when author, historian, and educator Henry Louis Gates republished the book with his discoveries that the author was African American and the story was largely autobiographical.
Fast forward over one hundred and fifty years, and the work of many Black authors remain buried treasure. Unfortunately, readers who seek to find a diamond in the rough are often met with challenges created by a publishing industry that only markets a limited number of books by Black authors. Possibly, the same scenario Wilson faced in the mid-1800s when her novel, like so many today, went unread and unappreciated.
The dismantling of obstacles to finding good books written by Black authors starts with intentionality. According to a study by The New York Times, out of a sample of 7,124 books traditionally published between 1950 and 2018, 95 percent were written by white writers. This forces readers who want to purchase books by Black writers to search for bookstores that celebrate diversity and book fairs that include works by traditional and self-published writers regardless of race, religion, sex, or sexuality.
Intentionality is the linchpin to creating a literary world that makes room for all writers.
In the spirit of inclusion, Black writers gathered in New Orleans at the BLK INK Book Festival on January 28th to celebrate the importance of books by writers of color. The book fair attracted over 70 exhibitors across the US, representing over 300 books written by Black authors. In addition, hundreds of book lovers attended the free event.
BLK INK is not the only book fair that caters to all readers. Events are springing up across the country designed to connect readers with a palette for Black stories with creators of books including self-help, children, sci-fi, and afro-futurist work. These events include the National Black Book Fair in Houston, TX, African American Children’s Book Fair in Philadelphia, PA, and the Austin African American Book Festival in Austin, TX.
Books with Black characters allow readers of color to have a personal connection with the storyline, inspire self-confidence, and celebrate the uniqueness of our culture. In addition, these books help to dispel stereotypes about the Black experience and give narrative control over how mainstream media perceives our lives.
While most bookstores will offer an array of Black authors’ books, black-owned bookstores remain a major source for learning about new works. According to the African American Literature Book Club, some 149 Black-owned bookstores exist in the US — about 6% of the roughly 2,500 independent bookstores in the country.
With a limited number of Black bookstores and a growing need for more books to hit the shelf, book fairs are increasing in size and opportunity for writers and readers. Thousands of readers attend local book fairs every year, searching for work they can not find in bookstores, libraries, or online.
Book fairs are helping Black writers fill the void created by publishing houses that continue to perpetuate the belief that mainstream readers are not interested in learning about the Black experience.