By KYLER SUMTER
Many believe that summertime and reading are polar opposites but on Sunday, July 16, the second annual Soulful Chicago Book Fair (SCBF) that will be held from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. is a summer highlight for book lovers.
The fair, which will span four blocks on 61st Street between Cottage Grove Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive, is an all-day celebration of literacy and writing.
“Last year’s inaugural event brought over 100 Black authors as well as several literary organizations to the South Side of Chicago,” an SCBF press release states. “On each block of the Soulful Chicago Book Fair are authors grouped by their genres, including fiction writers, non-fiction, and children’s book authors.”
SCBF President Asadah Kirkland founded the fair last year with the goal of, “renewing excitement around literacy and literary arts in the black community,” according to a statement from the organization.
Last year’s fair saw a turnout of over 3,000 people, 100 book titles, and 85 exhibitors.
Kirkland, an author from Chicago who also spent some time in New York and has appeared on CNN and featured in Essence, was shocked to find out Chicago didn’t have a book festival geared towards black authors similar to a large one held in New York, and thought this had to be remedied.
“I wanted to create a place where lovers of black literature and black authors and lovers of literature alike can have a great time and are surrounded by culturally relevant material,” Kirkland said.
Kirkland and her team were anxious before the start of the book fair last year, but all their worries subsided when the fair turned out to be a hit among attendees and authors alike. While Kirkland has been promoting this year’s fair, she said 75 percent of the people she approaches to tell about the fair say, “Oh I went last year, and it was awesome.”
Kirkland said, “There just seems to be a buzz of nothing but positive feedback about the experience, it’s just amazing to me.”
The fair is organized by block; one block is for children’s book authors, one block for non-fiction book authors, one block for fiction book authors, etc. In addition to showing off black books and authors, the fair includes poetry and music performances, puppet shows, food vendors, playwriting, literary workshops and more.
Authors who want to participate can send in their book information on the SCBF website for approval and the SCBF board will only deny those authors who have inappropriate titles or cover art. Authors also have the opportunity to create commercials on the SCBF YouTube channel and be featured on their website.
“For one children’s book author, it was her first time in a book fair, her first book, and she sold almost 70 books. That’s an unheard of number for a black author at any event,” Kirkland said about the 2016 fair. “Another author said ‘Asadah I sold out’, and I’m like ‘What? You sold out?’”
Kirkland was amazed at the success the authors had seen in just 10 hours.
“Just to hear that type of feedback and to hear another author say ‘I made my money back and then some’, that’s what it’s supposed to be about,” Kirkland said. “Some of these other venues are not going to do that because that’s not really the aim, but that is my aim.”
SCBF is also hosting an essay contest, named after South Side activist and educator Timuel D. Black, for students in grades 4 – 12th. Students who interviewed their elder relatives and wrote compelling essays about Chicago’s history and their immediate family’s role in it will have the chance to win $100, a Timuel D. Black book, and be honored at the fair.
Neo Soul Group King, hip-hop artist J. Kwest, Dance Esteem, Vocal artist Ugochi, DJ Duane Powell, 5-year-old spoken word performer Pe’Tehn and other artists will provide entertainment.
Of all the festivities occurring during the fair last year, Kirkland most fondly remembers the elder procession held at the beginning of the event, which is an event inspired by an African tradition where elders are honored and carried on floats.
“It was so emotional for people; people were just coming out of the woodwork dancing on the sides, the elders are waving, the drums are playing, we’re all dancing, somebody started a chant,” Kirkland said. “It was just like man, what a humbling experience.”
SCBF is a non-profit organization; the fair has some sponsors like the University of Chicago and Brown Sugar Bakery, but it also relies on donations from the community. The organization started a 20/20 visionary campaign for donors who give at least $20 because they believe in the SCBF’s vision, and recognizes those donors on its website.
Kirkland’s biggest takeaway after creating and having a successful fair was that all it takes to do something big is to start with a goal.
“If you have a vision you work at it, you don’t think about how you can’t do it or the challenges, you don’t do that you just look at the goal,” Kirkland said. “Look at what you want and not what you don’t want.”
For more information about the Soulful Chicago Book Fair visit soulfulchicagobookfair.com.