By Chase Quinn
I remember venturing out last fall shortly after moving to Charleston from New York City to attend Black Ink, Charleston’s First African American Book Festival. I’d seen the event advertised in the local paper and was both surprised to learn it was the first one of its kind and committed to getting involved. That day readers, local black writers, and engaged community members gathered at Burke High School for a day celebrating Charleston’s diverse community of black authors.
As a black writer still new to the area, being able to attend an event that featured other Black writers – not only offering them the space to share and sell their work, but also giving individuals like me the chance to meet them and connect with a broader network of literary, artistic, and civic-minded people – was an invaluable opportunity.
The festival consisted of book sales, dialogue with self-published and press-published authors, a poetry reading by Charleston’s poet laureate Marcus Amaker, and panel discussions with local writers about their work and their journey to becoming writers. At the end of the event I had the privilege of meeting planning committee members – writer and editor Stephen Hoffius, Friends of the Library Director Brittany Mathis, and Charleston Public Library Special Events Coordinator, Kim Bowlin. From then on I was excited to join the team and start planning for 2017.
In planning this year’s festival, we wanted to be sure to create an event that matched the promise and enthusiasm of the year before with the potential to attract even more people. In the course of planning, we were fortunate enough to secure 2015 Newberry Award winning writer Kwame Alexander as our keynote speaker. A New York Times Bestselling author, Kwame has published 24 books, and is a local celebrity and literary talent.
We have also been fortunate in our partnerships, this year moving the event from one cornerstone of the community, Burke High School, to another, the main branch of the Charleston Public Library. In addition we have Charleston Friends of the Library, South Carolina Humanities Council, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Rotary Club of Charleston, Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston, YMCA of Greater Charleston, YWCA of Greater Charleston, and CharlestonGOOD all to thank for bringing this year’s 2nd annual Black Ink Book Festival to life.
These of course are all wonderful reasons to attend this year’s festival. Undoubtedly it will be a significant event filled with purpose. But, in this committee member’s humble opinion there are equally important reasons that relate to the current state of our nation and the world that make this event special and one not to miss
Making space for black voices and black stories at a time when some of our political leaders are literally rewriting American history on a regular basis in 140 characters or less is a radical act. Sharing your story, and your personal narrative with other people becomes essential when what is real and what is imagined is being called into question daily, whether it be the effects of Global Warming, the evil of White Supremacy, or the integrity of the news media.
Good storytelling, whether romance, memoir, or thriller, has the ability to moot the difference between fact and fiction because of it can speak to transcendent realities and common experiences, becoming not only a source of enjoyment and entertainment, but a moral elixir for book lovers and truth seekers alike.
Furthermore, cultivating this sense of the power of writing and personal voice in our local communities that challenge dominant narratives about who we are is central to Black Ink’s mission, which is why our event is designed as a family fun affair. One where young people are encouraged to attend and learn about traditions of black writing, see representations of successful black authors, and ensure that the possibility of writing and of being a writer is present in their vocabulary of dreams.
It has often been black writers, after all, who have throughout American history set the record straight when others would see that history white-washed or re-written. Whether in slave narratives by the likes of Frederick Douglas, in scorching political criticism by James Baldwin, or in the speculative fiction of Octavia Butler. Black authors have consistently defied the, all too often, limited expectations of what it means to be black in America and sought to uncover deeper truths about the American experience.
We honor this past, present, and future in the wonderful artwork for our event poster, which features illustrations of black literary giants from history including Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes. It is no coincidence this artwork is the product of Fort Dorchester High School sophomore, John Christopher Wright II. As a budding young artist and South Carolina native he represents the best and brightest of our communities’ emerging artistic talent and we are proud to be able to create spaces like Black Ink to support his work.
This year’s event will open at 11 AM at the main branch of the Charleston Public Library and will include book sales by over 50 local authors, a keynote address by Kwame Alexander, and a panel discussion later in the afternoon. Come for the family fun and festivities, and stay to help promote a future that includes the voices of our black and brown brothers and sisters at a time when some would have those voices silenced.