Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Guest Post: National Black Book Festival

Hello! I would like to introduce you to one of my friends, Valinda, who is guest blogging on The Reading Diva. Originally from Washington, D.C., she now calls Charleston, SC home. She is the blogger behind African-American Books on the Kindle, which highlights books that are offered as ebooks on Amazon. A few days ago, she attend the National Black Book Festival in Houston. Here's her take on the event. I wish I would have known that the Elements were going to be involved.

After waiting, saving, waiting and putting off buying anything unless it was absolutely necessary, I was at the airport at 4:30 in the morning anxious and deliriously happy to begin my vacation and my trip to Houston for the National Black Book Festival. “Yeah, baby!, it was on and up, up and away!!!

Arrived in Houston a day early to walk around and act like a regular tourist. The city is beautiful. Filled with a huge culture base, malls abound, big and tall buildings and many museums. Of course they have crime and homeless people everywhere asking for money, singing or talking to themselves. I met one of them the next morning when I came back from Starbucks. It’s about 6:00 am and I am returning to the hotel when I see a homeless man talking to one of the personnel of the hotel outside. The guy is carrying a pillow and he has on a T-Shirt, only!! Yes, I said T-Shirt only. Naked as a jay bird underneath. This is not a sight you want to see first thing in the morning outside your hotel. Butt! Naked!!! Wow!! Welcome to Houston, folks!! I’ve attached some pictures of my trip below, but for now, let’s get to the National Black Book Festival. The reason for me living!!

Friday was the “Welcome to Houston” reception. Not many authors were there and the food was OK, but I was more than excited to hang out with these authors. The announcer asked every one to stand up and state who they are and what book they wrote. Some stood up and not only talked about their book, but introduced their wife, husband, or friend who joined them on their trip for support. One author brought her mother with her from North Carolina. It was the first time her mother had every been on a plane. She said she was scared, but more scared if she did not come and support her daughter. I stood up and informed everyone that I was not an author, but a professional blogger who sells and promotes their books and that it was the biggest pleasure and honor to be here. “Just think of me as the drug dealer on the corner selling crack,” I’m selling books the same way!! It got noticed. Another author, Robert Moore , author of “The President's Men: Black United States Marshals in America,” offered anyone to take the $5.00 out of his hand if they could tell him who was the first black marshal and who was the President who nominated him? No one could. It was Frederick Douglas. So many stories and so many authors there who I was a friend on Facebook and new ones to add. It was exciting that night and it continued to the hotel bar and throughout the night. That’s where I became fast friends with Tina Brooks McKinney, who is the author of “Snapped,” “All That Drama.” “Deep Deception,” “Around the Way Girls 8,” “Deep Deception 2,” and “Dubious,” which you really have to mentally get ready to read. It scared the daylights out of me that such a fetish exist. She told me she did not believe it at first, but her research turned it upside down for her and it was hard to get published because many people did not believe it. They did after she showed them her research notes. Tina and I hung out the whole time we were there and it’s amazing how much I learned from her about the “black” publishing business, damn! simply amazing.

The next two days was the actual book sale. In the two ballrooms and adjacent smaller rooms there were authors Joyce Carol Thomas, Regina Brooks, J. M. Benjamin (He had a reputation for selling more of his books than anyone else and he proved it again. His books - “Memoirs Of An Accidental Hustler”, “Down in the Dirty”, “Heaven & Earth”, “Ride or Die Chick”, “From Incarceration 2 Incorporation)”and many others. Isaiah Washington was also there (He is a good looking brother and skinny too, but I was not a fan of the TV show he was on, Grey’s Anatomy, but loved him in “Romeo Must Die,” and “Mr. & Mrs. Loving.” His book is “A Man From Another Land: How Finding My Roots Changed My Life”). I was not able to get in the room to hear him speak because it was covered from one end to another with women, so I gave up and waited until I saw him to get picture and thanked him. He was also born and raised in Houston, so I guess it was good for him to come home.

Throughout Saturday and Sunday, more than 100 authors were selling their books and that’s good, but the venue obviously was not located in a area for people to get easily too. We had more authors, volunteers and workers than people buying. Many people told me they did not know about it until the last minute. I saw a little bit in the paper and many people stated that it was not on the radio enough. It costs $5.00 to get in and some of the authors I got a chance to speak to and get to know, were a little bit put off because they paid money to be here, brought truck loads of books and did not make enough sales to cover their expenses.

Other authors there included Michelle McKinney Hammond, Tananarive Due, Ashley & Jaquavis, K’Wan, Pamela Samuels Young and the Kings of Literature - Brian W. Smith, Marc Lacy, Rickey Teems II, Jihad, Moses Miller, Joseph, Vincent Alexandria and many, many more. There was the Slumber Party with Authors Ashley & Jacquavis, authors of one of my favorites, “Dirty Money.” There was a get acquainted breakfast on how to improve your sales. Didn’t know many people were still not using Facebook and Twitter. There was Sunday worship service, Sunday jazz brunch, good music and Spoken Word Poetry Slam, which is sad to report that there were less than 30 people in attendance.


I volunteered there for two days and that added a bonus to me getting around and getting closer to the authors, which was a big, and I mean big thrill to me. I really got to know, especially the urban fiction/christian writers, who they really are and got to know the business. I even met and talked all night with Pamela Samuels Young and Carl Weber’s brother and nephew. Mr. Weber’s company is thinking about opening up a store in Houston and many people who live there are hoping he does. Tina was asked to manage it, but if you can believe, she suggested they ask me. The way I talked to the writers and worked the festival, even thought I was only a volunteer, she told them in front of me, “I think you have found your Houston store manager. She will not sit behind the cash register taking orders, she will come out and talk to the customers and give them more ideas than they can handle and sell your books." They took my business card and said, “maybe,” but “we do like your attitude.”

Don’t want to write much more, it’s getting to long, but suffice to say, it wasn’t just a good vacation, it was a very, very badly and needed vacation where I was in my “elemental and groovacious feeling” and to end my trip, I walked to the Verizon Wireless theater and saw Earth, Wind and Fire. I died and went to heaven when I saw Verdine White on the stage. I screamed so loud and so much and when I saw him back stage, I could not breath, I just could not breath. I have been in love with him and the group all my life.

I walked backed to the hotel, singing, dancing and going over and over again, “Oh, My God!!! Verdine White!!!! I saw Verdine White!!! Houston, Texas, I think I found my new “home.” Get ready for me! I’m something else!!

To end this blog, I would like to leave you with my favorite EW&F songs, probably because it's one of my uncle's favorites. I hope they played it at the concert.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Singular Woman


While I was on vacation last week, I finished A Singular Woman by Janny Scott. It is the biography of S. Ann Dunham, who is President Obama's mother. Scott's purpose of this book was to show that Dunham was more than "a white woman from Kansas".

Born in 1942, Stanely Ann Dunham moved around during her childhood because of her father's work. After living in Washington state for a few years (which may have influenced some of her views), Ann moved to Hawaii and enrolled in college. She met Barack Obama, Sr. during her first few days on campus in 1960. Less than a year later, their son was born.

After Ann's divorce from the President's father, she remarried an Indonesian man and moved to his home country with Barack. She fell in love with Indonesia, spending most of her life doing anthropology work in the country. She was also able to obtain a PhD while raising two multiracial children by herself (and help from her parents).

You can tell by this book that Ann was not the type who stayed home and bake cookies. She dated and married men of other races in a time where it was illegal in some states to do so. Despite motherhood and marriage, she pressed on and finished her college education. Through her work she got to interact with people from other cultures and became lifelong friends with some of them (more than 200 people were interviewed for the book). She taught her children the values from her Kansas upbringing, which shaped them in the people they have become today (especially the President).

The only thing I didn't like about the book is that there is a lot of discussion of her work. At times it weighed down the story. But it did show some insight into what she was as a person.

As I got towards the end of the book, I got sad. I got sad because she got taken away at the young age of 52. I got sad because she never knew what her son became and that her dream of him becoming President became true. She never saw her daughter get married. She will never know her four granddaughters and will never be called Grandma.

I think this book is idea for Obama fans and those who like biographies in general.

(Picture of cover from Chicago Reader)