Seattle authors seek to build black literary community at upcoming book fair

A woman browses bookshelves. (Photo by Germán Poo-Caamaño via Flickr.)
A woman browses bookshelves. (Photo by Germán Poo-Caamaño via Flickr.)

A lot of people say that the hardest part in one’s journey is taking the first step, I believe the hardest part in your journey is deciding how to take the first step.

I am an African-American kid’s book author, born and raised in Seattle. Three years ago, I discovered that I had an overwhelming urge to produce children stories. I sought and found guidance from many talented writers and poets from Seattle. I decided to self-publish my work.

As time passed, I noticed something odd as I continued learning ways to develop my writer’s identity — I had yet to meet an author who was black. While I had guidance from many talented writers and poets from Seattle, none could connect me to another black author from whom I could seek mentorship. 

It’s true that meeting people from different cultural backgrounds helps a person raise their awareness of self and their awareness of the world we live in. But there is something fulfilling when you can learn about it from someone who looks like you.

For a year, I promoted my first book, “The Family Jones and The Eggs of Rex” in Seattle and never came across another black author. I nearly fell for the absurd thought that I must have been the only black author in Seattle. It’s not true, of course, but I was having trouble disproving that to myself.

In search of ideas and opportunities that would help my writing aspirations I decided to look outside state lines. I researched book fairs around the country and I was shocked over the lack of book fairs that catered to the black demographic — and there were none in Seattle.

The Toronto Urban Book Expo changed my pessimism — it was my first time at a book fair and my first time traveling outside the country. The temperature was below freezing, but the cold wasn’t powerful enough to diminish my spirits that weekend. Toronto was rich with culture, rich with a great literary lifestyle and rich with authors who looked like me. At the end of that weekend, it became clear that I wanted to bring that energy to Seattle.

After Toronto, I began looking for venues to host a book release event for my second book “Why is Jane so Mad?” I found great locations, but none that could replicate the energy I experienced in Toronto, until I met with the organizers of Black Dot Cultural Innovation Space, a Central District co-working space with a mission to help African-American entrepreneurs and artists.

I asked about hosting my book event there and they dropped a bomb on me — another black author in Seattle that wanted to host an event as well. 

The author and local publisher Prince Royal. (Photo courtesy J.L. Cheatham II)
J.L. Cheatham II and local author/publisher Prince Royal. (Photo courtesy J.L. Cheatham II)

Not only was Prince Royal an author, but he was the head of his own publishing company, Royal Family Publication. When Prince and I met, we joked about how we were the only black authors that each other has ever met in Seattle. We talked extensively about the troubles we both experienced being a black author trying to carve a place in our community and creating a home for black authors in Washington.

The idea behind the Seattle Urban Book Expo was born — to create a fresh, black literary experience for the 206.

We started reaching out to people in the community through emails and social media, and received positive feedback. People told us Seattle needs another way for creative expression for the urban community, especially black authors. I’ve never felt such a sustained level of excitement in my life.

For our first Seattle Urban Book Expo, we’ve signed on a great cast of black authors including Sharon Blake, Emily Rosequartz, Gui Chevalier, Kai Storm, DeAunte Anderson, and Nyree Ausler.

While we all come from different backgrounds, we all share the same feeling — Seattle needed a voice created for the black literary community. Personally, I feel like that mission will begin to manifest on Oct. 1. What we all will discover that day is if the African-American community will make it into a reality.

Seattle Urban Book Expo will be 2 to 6 p.m. Oct. 1 at Black Dot Cultural Innovation Space, 1160 23rd Ave.

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1 Comment

  1. I think it would be great if Seattle had a black author community, and I’m surprised you didn’t know that there were other black authors *here*. One of my favorites is Charles Johnson, who has been here since the 70s, I think. He is a retired UW professor and quite prolific. He won the National Book Award for “Middle Passage,” which I loved. His daughter is also a writer.

    Nisi Shawl is a speculative fiction writer who just released a book, and is probably on tour these days. Nisi is well known among science fiction writers. Gabriel Teodros, who is a recent Clarion West graduate and has a story in Octavia’s Brood also lives here. There are also some black playwrights based out of Seattle, like Shontina Vernon. There’s also the African American Writers Alliance, which I’m not a member of and can’t speak to, but it’s worth checking out if you haven’t already.

    In any event, I will swing by the Expo. I hadn’t heard of it until it came through my Twitter timeline via the Seattle Public Library. Looking forward to meeting folks and hearing about what’s going on!

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