The Harlem Book Fair (HBF) has been the premier meeting place for book lovers and authors since it was founded more than 10 years ago. This year’s fair will be held Saturday, July 23, 2011, starting at 11 a.m. and will feature actress-author Cherie Johnson, filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, culture critic Nelson George, Kola Boof and many other literary and cultural icons, as well as a special “Learn It Live!” session with rolling out’s publisher Munson Steed with New York Times best-selling author Omar Tyree and actress-author BernNadette Stanis in the HBF Digital Outdoor Village.
HBF founder Max Rodriguez shares with rolling out readers HBF’s history, his vision and why book fairs of this sort are still relevant. –yvette caslin
Please share some background information or history of HBF.
The Harlem Book Fair was founded in 1998 when I moved our book review offices from downtown New York City to Harlem. I realized there was no public celebration of writing or writers, right there in the home of the Harlem Renaissance. So, my team set out to produce an outdoor book festival that celebrated the writers who have told our stories and, by extension, celebrate our many accomplishments that, so often, are overlooked. Our first event brought in 43 exhibitors and about 1,200 attendees. Our largest pre-recession crowd numbered over 50,000 with over 250 exhibitors. We are, of course, broadcast live annually on C-SPAN’s Book-TV, and this has helped tremendously, both in promoting the event and spawning a number of African American book festivals across the country.
What is your vision moving forward?
I have always envisioned the book fair as a national African American event. Every child [and] every parent would want to have this memory. My vision is to continue to partner with those corporations, publishers and community institutions that value the importance of literacy and value the African American reader segment as valuable and worthy of being supported in its highest ideals. Already, we have added two cities to our 2012 schedule. It’s all about love of self and love of community.
What do you hope the community and authors gain from the annual event?
So many things that I think can be summarized in a few words: accomplishment, vision, self-acknowledgment and access to information.
How has HBF assisted authors’ success?
I can think only of a very few established authors who have not benefited from an appearance at the Harlem Book Fair. Either selling books, participating on an author panel, presenting to an audience on one of our stages or just meeting the right editor or publishing professional that helped them move their career forward. We’ve been at this for 13 years now. I’m sure we have hosted over 2,000 authors over that time.
Are community fairs and festivals still relevant? Why?
Very much so. They represent an opportunity for us to gather to congratulate ourselves, to reconnect, to let each other know that we are still pushing on. More importantly, we get to measure ourselves against the grain, make adjustments and jump back into the fray. We get to “say” in our own multigenerational and gender voices; we get to “poet”; we get to sing it; we get to shout it…all that is “word,” we get to say. It really is a celebration of our successes. Don’t miss it!