Many of us who love to read and love to write have bemoaned the loss of brick and mortar bookstores over the past several years—the chain stores as well as the independents. We’ve wondered if our society will lose interest in reading and if the online booksellers are speeding up the demise of bookstores. We writers have wondered if we’ll have a decent-sized audience who will read our work. My fears were calmed recently while I was on a business trip. To get to my destination, I had to connect at Philadelphia International Airport. Killing time between flights I happened upon what is called the Philadelphia Book Exchange, a welcoming little cove with benches and chairs and a slot for dropping off books for others to read and selecting books that you’d like to read. It’s located at Terminal A-East. The airport also has a virtual library, which lets visitors access the Free Library of Philadelphia’s electronic collection of e-books. It’s located in the D/E Connector.
And also during my trip I was delighted to see that my Uber driver had placed some delightful readings in the seat pocket behind the driver’s seat. It’s encouraging to see new avenues for inspiring reading.If you’ve seen libraries, bookstores, or book exchanges pop up in unusual or untraditional places, let me know. I’d love to hear about it.
June 8, 2019, marks the first Women’s Fiction Day. Sponsored by the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, the occasion is in celebration of women’s fiction authors, novels, publishers, booksellers, and most importantly, readers who appreciate women’s fiction and the power of a great story. As a fiction writer myself, I am very pleased by this news. Women’s fiction includes layered stories in which the plot is driven by the main character’s emotional journey. The stories can be contemporary or historical, and may have magical, mystery, thriller, romance, or other elements.
June 8th was chosen because it’s a celebratory month and many people enjoy summer reading. Summer signals a time to slow down, relax, visit a local library or bookstore, and discover new novels to experience during this beautiful season – and throughout the entire year.
Ways to Celebrate Women’s Fiction Day:
• Visit http://www.womensfictionwriters.org and subscribe to the free Read On! Newsletter where we’ll keep you up-to-date on new women’s fiction authors and titles. • Visit the WFWA shelf on Goodreads to find hundreds of titles.
• Visit your local library and/or bookstore to discover new authors and novels. • Follow WFWA on Twitter @WF_Writers or Instagram womensfictionwriters
• On social media, #bookstagram your favorite book and include a photo or stack
• Host or attend a women’s fiction book club event.
The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) was founded in 2013 and is now the premier organization for women’s fiction. The organization fosters an online community of inclusion and opportunity, and provides resources, professional development, networking, and support for aspiring, debut, and published women’s fiction authors, as well as industry professionals.
Reading African American literature is a great way to celebrate Black History Month. In recognition of this observance, I offer my list of top 10 books (in no particular order) by authors of the African diaspora (people of African origin living outside of the continent).
Naylor won critical and popular acclaim for her first published novel. In later years it became a television miniseries. In The Women of Brewster Place and subsequent novels, Naylor gave intense and vivid depiction of many social issues, including poverty, racism, homophobia, misogyny, and social stratification of African Americans.
Hurston was an anthropologist and influential author of African American literature. Of Hurston’s four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays, the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God is her most popular work.
This young adult novel–which is now a major motion picture– felt so real to me that at times I had to put it down and let the book cool off for a day or two before continuing. The Hate U Give debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list and remained there for 50 weeks. Thomas’ goal through her fiction, is to shed light on issues that many African Americans face.
This emotionally searing work is written as a letter to Coates’ teenage son about the feeling, symbolism, and realities associated with being African American in the United States. Coates is an author, journalist, and comic book writer who gained broad attention during his time as a national correspondent at The Atlantic.
My favorite writer, Hughes was a poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist and was best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. This collection of his short stories showcases Hughes’ literary skill and artistic ability.
The works of novelist, playwright, and social critic James Baldwin explored the intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions. The novel, Another Country, published in 1962, portrays themes taboo in their day, including bisexuality, interracial couples, and extramarital affairs.
Nigerian author Adichie won the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award for this novel taught in many university classrooms, that traces the life of a young Nigerian woman who immigrates to the U.S. to attend university.
This Haitian-American novelist and short story writer has won numerous awards and is gifted at using many different forms of storytelling. Claire of the Sea Light shows a town scarred by violence and corruption and social disparities but also filled with hopes and dreams.
The works of playwright August Wilson included a series of plays, known as the Pittsburgh Cycle, for which he received two Pulitzer Prizes for drama. Each work is set in a different decade and depicts comic and tragic aspects of the African American experiences. Fences, which became a major motion picture starring Denzel Washington, is but one of August’s exceptional works.
WOMEN READING ALOUD is an international organization dedicated to the power of the writer’s voice. WRA believes in providing space for artistic growth. Founded in New Jersey in 2003, it offers writing workshops modeled after the Amherst Writers and Artists Method, the Author Series, and Work-in-Progress Series, Writing and Yoga Program, conferences and retreats where women writers can explore their “authentic” voices. Founded on the 3-in-1 principle, WOMEN READING ALOUD focuses on the equal value of the writer, the reader, and the listener. All genres are welcome. WRA encourages writers to cherish their own voices, as well as the voices of others, as they travel the writer’s journey.
A coalition of literary organizations have banded together to propose a multi-use literary and cultural hub in the Seaport District of Boston, a vibrant center for teens and adults from all backgrounds to tell their stories and experiences. This effort is led by Grub Street Writing Center. The proposal has gotten a boost from the Calderwood Charitable Foundation, should their plan be approved.
Share your excitement for a Narrative Arts Center by advocating and spreading the word on social media. Use hashtag #BostonNarrativeCenter in your tweets. Here are sample tweets to consider:
Help make #BostonNarrativeCenter (ow.ly/u5x530jbmBw )—Boston’s first center for literary groups to create, perform, and collaborate—a reality. Let @marty_walsh know this is important to you! Other ways to advocate ow.ly/xcnB30jbmFR
GrubStreet, @masspoetry, & @HarvardBooks are setting out to build the City’s first narrative arts/storytelling center ow.ly/u5x530jbmBw Want to make #BostonNarrativeCenter a reality? Here are ways to advocate ow.ly/xcnB30jbmFR
Tweet Mayor Marty Walsh, @marty_walsh, to let him know you support a Narrative Arts Center in Boston.
A letter of support
Write a letter of support addressed to Boston Planning and Development Agency and 50 Liberty LLC. The letter should explain why you are personally supportive of this idea and talk about the impact GrubStreet has had on your life as a student, instructor, community partner, or writer or the impact you see in the city and even nationally. Letters can be sent to Alyssa Mazzarella at firstname.lastname@example.org. Grub Street is collecting them to send over in a bundle
Calls and emails to the city officials
If you live in Boston, call and/or email your city councilor and the members on the Arts, Culture and Special Events Committee: Kim Janey, Michelle Wu, Timothy McCarthy, Matt O’Malley, Josh Zakim. Links to their emails are here: https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-council
If you don’t live in Boston, please email or call the councilor members on the Arts, Culture and Special Events Committee: Kim Janey, Michelle Wu, Timothy McCarthy, Matt O’Malley, Josh Zakim as well as the at-large city councilors. Links to their emails are here: https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-council
The Office of Arts and Culture Julie Burros, Chief of Arts and Culture email@example.com 617-635-3911
Several other writers and I, who contributed essays to the anthology, Black Lives Have Always Mattered, published by 2Leaf Press, were recently invited to appear on the Boston Neighborhood Network, a public access television station. The mission of BNN is to inform and empower those who live, work and study in Boston through distinct and diverse community media programming, education and services.
We writers were part of a panel discussion for the program, “Willie’s Web,” hosted by Willie Pleasant. Normally, before making a television appearance, I am nervous. In fact, there have been instances when I couldn’t sleep the night before. But before the BNN appearance, I was relaxed. Maybe it was because I met Willie a few weeks earlier at a book party and she put me at ease. Or it could have been because I convinced myself of the misconception that community access was nothing to feel anxious about because very few people watch.
Here are six things I learned from appearing on public access television:
There was no pressure to be perfect. BNN is a learning tool for the community. Residents who volunteer are instructed on how to produce and direct television programming. They are provided with workshops and multimedia training. The production team is not scolded for small mistakes, which helps engender a relaxing atmosphere on the set.
Effective training ground. If you’re unsure if you’d feel comfortable appearing on television, you can find out through appearing on public access television without concern that a massive audience is watching.
Plenty of leveraging opportunities. Making an appearance on public access TV can bring a writer to the attention of commercial stations. Writers wanting to pitch themselves to other outlets will have a copy of the show they can share with news directors and assignment editors at other stations. Appearing on public access can also bring a writer to the attention of people in the local community who might like to invite the writer for a public talk or community event.
Generous amount of time for the interview. Willie’s Web was an hour-long program, which allowed plenty of time for all of us to talk about our writing. Most commercial stations wouldn’t be able to program that amount of time for a panel of authors.
Station is small but mighty. Once the show aired live, it was scheduled to re-air the following week. Then it would be designated a video on demand, which the public would have access to indefinitely.
Hyper local. Public access stations have a very loyal fan base who love grassroots, unvarnished programming. You may not have a lot of people watching your appearance, but the ones who watch will really care.
As I look forward to my novel being published in 2019, I think about the book party I’ll have—where I’ll host it, how I’ll get people to attend, ways to keep people invested in the party long enough for them to buy a copy of the book, possibly recommend it to others, and write a 5-star review for Amazon. I’ve concluded that the best ideas for approaching a book party come from attending the book parties of others. That’s what I had in mind when I recently attended the book launch of Janie Brodman, the author of Sex Rules: Astonishing Sexual Practices and Gender Roles around the World.Here are some of the tactics I learned:
Inform people of your book launch the old fashioned way.
Months before Janice’s book was published, she came to a Writer’s Night Out event I attended that was sponsored by the Boston Chapter of the National Writers Union. She talked excitedly about her book, told us about her upcoming book party and exchanged business cards with us. At least two National Writers Union members (including me) attended.
Tap into your already existing network and fan base
Janice holds a PhD from a Harvard and taught at the Harvard Kennedy School and has been a PhD advisor at MIT. She hosted her book launch at the Harvard Coop, the campus store for the Harvard and MIT communities, a convenient location for her Harvard and MIT colleagues.
Choose a target-rich venue
The Harvard Coop is at a major intersection and within feet of a subway station. It not only gets high foot traffic from students, but the general public. Thirty minutes before the book party, a manager announced the event over the intercom. Then 15 minutes later he announced it again. Of the 75 people who made the trip to the third floor for the event, a number were most likely customers who happened to be in the store and heard the announcement.
Bread and Circus
Janice had a Harvard University jazz trio perform as the guests made their way to their folding chairs. I saw at least two senior citizens getting their groove on, doing a two-step to the music. For snacks, Janie supplied cheese and crackers, seltzer water and cookies.
Before she gave her reading, Janice came around to each and every one of us and thanked us for attending.
Employ soft-sell marketing
After she took questions, she told us that her agent told her to ask everyone to give the book a 5-star review on Amazon. That way, the request seemed to come from her demanding agent, and not her.
As I left the book party, I looked back at Janice. She has a line of about 25 people waiting to purchase her book and get her autograph, and I had some wonderful ideas tucked away for when it’s my turn.
Ever since moving to the Boston area 14 years ago, I’ve been a fan of Porter Square Books. An independent bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that supports independent presses, small book associations, and little-known authors, Porter Square Books has hosted a number of author readings and panel discussions that have drawn my interest. Whenever I attend an event there, I’m thrilled to sit in the audience and listen to authors give a reading or expound on their writing method. I’m practically giddy when I get to speak one-on-one with the author and get the author to autograph a copy of the book for me.
Now I’ve gotten a taste of how the author feels.
Recently, three other writers and I gave a reading at Porter Square Books, co-sponsored by the National Writers Union Boston Chapter. We are all contributors to an anthology called Black Lives Have Always Mattered: A Collection of Essays, Poems, and Personal Narratives. I was concerned that very few people would come out to hear us since we are little-known writers. But through the publicity provided by the publisher, 2Leaf Press, and each of us presenters promoting the event through word-of-mouth, email, and social media, we got a decent turnout.
My husband says about 50 people showed up. The most heartwarming moment was afterwards when individuals came up to us with copies of the anthology they had just purchased. People actually stood in line to get my autograph on the book. They had big smiles on their faces. It was surreal.
Imagine growing up in a household in which you didn’t have to do chores. No washing the dishes. No taking out the trash. No cleaning up after Fido. But the one thing your parents did require you to do was to read books. And not just to read them, but read them aloud and record what you read on cassette tapes. That was one of the childhood reminiscences that Owen King shared with an audience of hundreds in the sanctuary of Newton Baptist Church in Newton, Massachusetts. Sitting next to him on stage, his dad, Stephen King, the award-winning horror novelist, added some details.
“Yes. I employed him to read books on tape throughout high school, probably paid him 9, 10 dollars each.”
“He introduced me to things I would never have read,” Owen added.
Father and son made an appearance at the church as part of their book tour to promote their collaboration, the novel, Sleeping Beauties, 721-pages of fright: the story of what might happen if women disappeared from the world of men. I built biceps carrying a copy of the book home.
Cultivating an appreciation of reading through small monetary rewards is a thread that runs throughout the family’s history. Stephen told the audience that when he was growing up in Stratford, Connecticut, his mother would read to his brother and him whatever she was reading: Agatha Christie, Perry Mason books, Great Expectations, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
He said when his mother read him a scene in which the evil Mr. Hyde runs over a child in the street, realizes what he’s done and then runs over her again, crushing her bones, he was hooked.
“I said ‘Ooh!’ I want to do that,” he said to the laughter of the audience. His mother began paying him 25 cents a story as an incentive to keep writing. Most of his stories back then centered on animals. “That was my first pay check,” he said. “Every writer starts with a little bit of talent,” he added, “and hopefully you’ll find someone who will be supportive.” The elder King was supportive of his son’s writing efforts. Owen King has had a story collection and novel published. Stephen King says he didn’t hesitate in agreeing to write this latest work when his son suggested it. “My dad can’t go to a ball game and be at the urinal without someone sidling up to him and saying, ‘Hey! King! I’ve got an idea for a novel.’ “ said Owen, “So I knew I had to be serious about this idea.” The event was sponsored by Newtonville Books.
I know nothing about professional football. I don’t understand how the game is played, never watch it on TV, except by default if I happen to attend a Super Bowl Game, and can count on one hand the current players whose names I recognize–this includes Tom Brady, quarterback for my hometown team. But I can now add Devon Kennard to the list. Kennard is a linebacker for the New York Giants. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. (Don’t ask me what that means.) He is also an avid reader. He conducted a book reading contest this summer that, according to the New York Times, has morphed into a dynamic book club. Kennard assigned the books The Alchemist and To Kill a Mockingbird. He re-read the books along with his online followers and came up with a list of questions that he thought would generate discussion. He was on target. He got a lot of response to his online book club and robust conversation ensued. “I didn’t want to be supergeneric,” The Times quotes him as saying. “I didn’t want people to just look up SparkNotes for answers. I wanted to actually have them be able to relate it to their own lives and what it means to them.” Kennard responds to the fans of his book club. He sends autographed memorabilia to those who give deep, insightful responses to questions. What one fan said he appreciated even more than the signed t-shirt and photo was that Kennard prompted him to re-read the Harper Lee classic.
A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.
This quote is from a 1929 essay by pioneering English writer Virginia Woolf. It is seen as a feminist text and an argument for both a literal and figurative space for women writers in a field traditionally dominated by men.
Recently women in general have been embracing the idea of having a space of their own, not necessarily to write, but to get away from the housework, the kids, the spouse–a sanctuary, a vacation spot right in their own backyard.
According to a recent Boston Globe article, “A place of her own? Enter the ‘she shed,’ ” women of means are building sheds in their backyards replete with skylights and French doors and window boxes. Lowe’s Home Improvement Store is pushing she sheds on its website, books have been published on the topic, and there are shows on the FYI and HGTV channels about these tiny oases.
I’m happy for these women. If I had the money, I’d build a ‘she shed,’ a place where I could have some alone time, away from the housework and other distractions. A more realistic possibility for me is moving to a bigger place where I can have a den or additional bedroom that I can turn into my writing room. I’d install bookcases, bring back my best buddies–all of my Barbie dolls and other collectible dolls my husband insisted I put away when we got married– make myself a pot of hot tea, and do some writing.
I became aware of the term “food desert,” some years ago when an effort got underway among some city council members in my hometown to bring a supermarket to a section of town that didn’t have one. A food desert exists when nutritious food is difficult to obtain due to availability, affordability, distance, or limited places to shop in a given area.
I have now learned of a new term—“book desert”—and am glad that the problem is being addressed. In order to bring more books to what they’re calling “book deserts,” the National Book Foundation, the US Departments of Housing & Urban Development and Education, the Urban Libraries Council, and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading are distributing over 270,000 books to public housing authorities throughout the country.
The Book Rich Environment Initiative will bring books to thirty-six different public housing authorities, including New York City Housing Authority, whose chair and CEO Shola Olatoye said, “Books are essential for children developing reading and writing skills that will last a lifetime. This collaborative effort will bring 50,000 new books into NYCHA homes and have an immeasurable impact on young residents who we know will fall in love with reading, one book at a time.”
Penguin Random House joined the initiative as lead publishing partner and promised 200,000 books, and Hachette Book Group and Macmillan Publishers have also made large commitments.
“This initiative is unique in its multi-organizational, collaborative approach to connecting young people with books and other literary experiences,” said Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. “National government agencies, non-profit organizations, local partners, and the publishing community have all leveraged their unique resources to create a model that’s far reaching, but also responsive to each local community’s needs. That’s what makes Book Rich Environments impactful.”
I say “Bravo!” to the National Book Foundation, the US Departments of Housing & Urban Development and Education, the Urban Libraries Council, and the Campaign for Grade Level Reading for launching this effort.