OK, so let’s articulate the obvious: There will be no tents or stages at the Schomburg Literary Festival this year. There will be no road-tripping or traveling to New York City’s beloved Harlem or electric anticipation in the line for in-person author signings. There will be no flipping through the fresh, crisp pages of a new book (maybe accidentally sniffing them, too?) and deciding, on the spot, to buy “just one more.” That will be missed, as in the interest of pandemic-era public health and safety, the event has gone virtual.
What there will be, says Novella Ford, associate director of public programs and exhibitions at the Schomburg, is the same opportunity to learn more about authors across the African diaspora that inspired the inaugural event last year. Organizers have assembled a daily schedule of programming from September 21–26, 2020 to engage and satiate readers’ fandom in poetry, fiction and nonfiction.
“We want this to be a book festival about authors not just from the United States, not just hyphenated Americans, but authors from across the globe,” she explained. “What are Ghanaians reading? What are Black Brits reading? That’s the ultimate goal because the Schomburg Center is dedicated to the interpretation and preservation of global Black experiences and I really want to hone in on that global part of it.”
The week kicks off on Thursday, September 17 at 6:30 pm ET with a pre-festival celebration of the publication of African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song, edited by poet and Schomburg Center Director Kevin Young with readings by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jericho Brown and the legendary Sonia Sanchez. On Tuesday at 8 pm ET, writers Roxane Gay, Mahogany L. Browne and Tracy K. Smith are set to discuss the right-now urgency and power of Audre Lorde’s work, especially following the release of The Selected Works of Audre Lorde and the recent republication of Sister Outsider. Saturday is an all-day joy fest of concurrent sessions across genres, from a talk on James Baldwin to an exploration of untangling the binary.
Black book lovers and literary enthusiasts have had an unprecedented amount of time to book-love and literary-enthuse this year, and Ford says organizers of the Schomburg Literary Festival decided not to cancel or postpone the event to honor both the readers and the writers of our Black experience stories.
“I felt like we should keep going. Writers of African descent have been writing since the beginning of time, however, they are an underlooked group. At the Schomburg, we know there are so many scholars and literary figures and poets who are out there publishing, doing some of the best work of their life, but are not necessarily being promoted to wider audiences. A black audience is more than enough of an audience, but if there is a broader world out there to be had, then I think we should have access to that, too.”
To register for events and check out the full schedule of Schomburg Literary Festival programming, visit their site.