In our contemporary era of digital everything, the idea of having a book fair with actual books could be considered naively antiquated or refreshingly daring.
Either way the first Sacramento Black Book Fair kicks off this weekend in Oak Park with hopes of becoming an annual event celebrating reading and the written word.
Organizer and co-founder of the event Dr. David Covin, a professor emeritus of government and Pan African studies at California State University, Sacramento, has worked on the idea for several years with different interest groups. He ultimately put together the three-day event featuring more than 80 writers under the umbrella of his Blue Nile Publishing Co.
“This is an event where we could serve the purpose of getting black authors exposure,” Covin said. “Getting black readers exposed to black writers and setting up a space where events would happen – intellectual events, emotional events, that weren’t going to happen anywhere else and weren’t happening anywhere else.”
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The fair fills a void and provides service, Covin said. “There is a need to expose black people to books, and in terms of authors and readers, get them to interface.
“There are large national book fairs of all kinds but in the context of the events, the space and time available for black authors is considerably limited,” Covin continued. “We know there are a lot of black readers and a lot of black writers, but we also wanted to take the opportunity to introduce books to people who weren’t already introduced to them.”
The fair opens Friday night at the Guild Theatre with a panel discussion on the role of black writers. Among the events: a Saturday book parade, book signings, readings, chats and numerous literature-based children’s activities. The venues mostly are situated in Oak Park in spaces donated by McGeorge Law School, Underground Books, Evolve the Gallery, The Brick House Art Gallery, and the Teach for America Building. Fair headquarters will be the Women’s Civic Improvement Club.
Covin pointed out it wasn’t so long ago there were three black bookstores in Sacramento, which told him there would be an audience and market for the kind of event he envisioned.
“We also knew … if we could recruit the writers and authors in the area we could create a base,” he said. “So we sent out an open invitation: If you want to be in a local book fair and you’re a writer, we’ll put you in it.”
Many of the writers are self-published – a time-honored American tradition that includes Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” and any number of current writers who self-publish digitally, commonly called bloggers.
The specter of poet and memoirist Maya Angelou, who died Wednesday, will loom over the fair, particularly because two of her close colleagues will be a part of the activities.
• Carlos Moore, an African Cuban writer who lives in Salvador, Brazil, had known Angelou since the late ’80s and recorded the last interview she gave while he was working on a documentary film on the history of racism, “Blood at the Roots.” Moore, who authored a definitive biography on the late Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti, had planned a visit with Angelou later this month as part of his U.S. trip.
• Dr. Eugene Redmond, a poet and literary scholar and a long and close friend of Angelou, also would have seen her this summer. For the past 14 years he has gone to her home in Winston Salem, N.C., for a summer writing retreat.
Redmond and Covin were instrumental in bringing Angelou to Sacramento in 1974 when she was guest lecturer at CSUS for a semester.
Redmond will lead a chat room at the Women’s Civic Improvement Club at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, and both he and Moore are scheduled to be part of the opening night panel discussion with the rest of the featured authors.
Among the featured writers will be two women who were actresses before turning to writing:
• Denise Nicholas is well known for portraying guidance counselor Liz McIntyre on the television series “Room 222” from 1969 to 1974. In the late ’80s Nicholas created a second career as a television writer and then she studied fiction. Her novel “Freshwater Road” was published in 2005 receiving a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and best of the year selection in numerous publications including The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The Atlanta Constitution Journal.
• Victoria Rowell starred in the soap opera “The Young and the Restless” for 14 seasons. She has written the 2010 novel “Secrets of a Soap Opera Diva” and the 2008 memoir “The Women Who Raised Me.”
Other writers of various genres at the book fair include William Strickland, Paul Carter Harrison, Halifu Osumare and Maulana Karenga.