African-American Presence at BEA Flourishes

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On Thursday, June 3, at BookExpo America, African-American booksellers and publishers convened for the annual African American Booksellers Conference (AABC). Throughout the daylong program, publishers, authors, and booksellers demonstrated the strength, diversity, and challenges of the African-American market. Expectations were high for the opening of the first African-American Pavilion on the BEA show floor. Participants were not disappointed the next day when the pavilion hosted 17 publishers, representing over a hundred African-American authors.

The growth and influence of the African-American publishing community was apparent throughout the conference.

Clara Villarosa of Hue-Man Bookstore in New York City, one of the organizers of the conference, noted during her opening remarks that this year, for the first time, the AABC luncheon was sponsored by an African-American-owned publisher, Literally Speaking Publishing House.

Prior to the afternoon of workshops, authors and former models Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant (Better Than I Know Myself, St. Martin's) gave the keynote address. In the first session, "Market Buzz -- From Classic to Street Life Publishers/Niche Within a Niche," moderator Emma Rodgers of Black Images Book Bazaar in Dallas led a spirited and far-ranging discussion with publishers, including Haki Madhubuti of Third World Press in Chicago, Tony Rose of Amber Communications Group in Phoenix, and W. Paul Coates of Black Classic Press in Baltimore. Rodgers told BTW in a post-BEA interview that Haki Madhubuti's words had a profound affect on her. "He's such an icon and a role model. He spoke about the great benefits of building your own store or facility. I came home all excited, wanting to build a new store. It's not really practical for us though."

Rodgers, who is seeking a new location for her 27-year-old store, was pleased with the range of booksellers attending the conference. "Some were seasoned, some were new," she said.

In the second session, "Sidelines to Help Increase Your Bottom Lines," bookstore owners Desiree Sanders of Afrocentric Books in Chicago and Felecia Wintons of Books for Thought in Tampa, Florida, discussed the possibilities for specialized merchandise with Greg Perkins, president/CEO of African American Expressions in Sacramento, California. Sanders, who won this year's Blackboard Bookseller of the Year Award, held a reception for booksellers on Friday evening at Afrocentric Books, her year-old second location.

Once activity started up on the show floor, the African-American Pavilion, co-founded by Genesis Press, Black Issues Book Review, and Amber Communications Group, became a hub of activity. Sanders found that it was much easier to meet self-published authors and independent presses with the centralized pavilion. Villarosa noted that most of the publishers represented in the pavilion were not imprints of mainstream publishers, as in the past, but African-American- owned. The profile of African Americans was heightened, she said, "in the past, on the show floor, you didn't see an African-American presence, now you do."

A. Renee West, publisher of Magazine said, in an article posted on, that the Pavilion was "amazing, uplifting, informative, and efficient.... The pavilion not only spared attendees from running over entire convention floors searching for our authors, but just the sight of this long aisle of 'us' on both sides of the table visually renewed hope and passions about the publishing industry." ( features photos of the African-American Pavilion at Book Expo 2004, which can be viewed by clicking here.)

At a reception held on Saturday, June 5, the Blackboard Awards for outstanding African-American writers of fiction, nonfiction, and children's books were presented by Blackboard, Inc. president, Faye Childs. Zane won the fiction award for Nervous: A Novel (Atria Books). The nonfiction award was given to Mamie Till-Mobley, for Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America (Random House); the children's book award went to Spike and Tonya Weiss Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, for Please, Baby, Please (S&S). --Nomi Schwartz