Harlem Book Fair '08 Round-up

One of the best things that I love about the Harlem Book Fair is that I get to be around other people who share my interests: book-browsing, writing, food, arts and crafts shopping and black radical thinking!

This year was no different. Yesterday, there was a greater sense of black unity with this being the 10th anniversary of the fair, as well as the feeling of pride around Barack Obama's presidential aspirations. Everywhere I looked I could find some wearing "Obama for President" and "Yes We Can" buttons.

But back to the subject of books, I was able to check out some fascinating programming on the current state of black literature. According to the organizers of the fair, it seems pretty grim.

"There is a myth that black folks don't read books or write books," said Dr Howard Dodson of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at Friday night's Wheatley Awards.

When the Harlem Book Fair commenced ten years ago, it only had six publishers lined up on 125th Street. Yesterday's fair had near 100 vendors and attracted over 50,000 attendees.

"You are the co-creators of the fair," said HBF founder Max Rodriquez to the audience Friday night. "Imagine if you weren't here."

I attended three great panel discussions that celebrated our greatest writers. Journalist/activist Herb Boyd moderated a panel on James Baldwin's legacy.

Panelist Amiri Baraka said that he learned about Baldwin through the book, Notes of a Native Son. While Baraka had a beef with Baldwin over his presence in Europe during racial upheaval in the United States during the 1960s, at Baldwin's funeral Baraka eulogized him as "God's revolutionary black voice."

"James Baldwin was the most impressive literary figure in my life," Baraka said.

Beverley Manley, the former wife of the late Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley, discussed her new book, The Manley Memoirs. Mrs. Manley is best known for being a staunch feminist who spoke her own truth during her husband's tenure.

"I wrote this book because I wanted to show that women can make it in patriarchal societies," she said. "It is amazing how I survived."

Finally, another great panel on the bicentennial of the U.S. abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. While Great Britain spent nearly $40 million last year on commemorations, this important anniversary went unnoticed in the United States. Despite Obama's unprecedented presidential campaign, Dodson said that Americans were in denial about talking about race.

"You can't know about your history without knowing about the slave trade," he said.

View all the panel discussions online at Book TV.



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