We Need Diverse Books, the grassroots organization that works to promote diversity in contemporary literature, announced on Tuesday that Sara Luce Look, the co-owner of Charis Books & More in Atlanta, is the winner of its debut Bookseller of the Year Award. Look, who has worked at the 43-year-old indie feminist bookstore in the Little Five Points neighborhood since 1994, has been its co-owner since 1997; she is the store’s general manager and head book buyer.
The WNDB Bookseller of the Year program was launched in January at Winter Institute 12 in Minneapolis; it honors an individual or group of booksellers at a store that best embodies the nonprofit’s mission of promoting literature that reflects the diversity of readers in an increasingly multicultural society.
In her nomination letter, E.R. Anderson, the executive director of Charis Circle, the bookstore’s nonprofit programming arm, noted: “Sara has created hands down the most diverse children’s and YA section in the South for more than 23 years. She is passionately devoted to building a better world through books and she does her research, making sure that each book on the shelf is not tokenizing a group or identity but deeply reflective of that group or culture’s true lived experience. Charis Books was one of the first bookstores to have an LGBTQ kids’ section (in the ’80s), and has always had books for kids with disabilities, books for kids with parents in jail, and books for kids who are raised by a grandparent or foster parent or two dads or a single mom.”
Besides Charis Books, there were four other finalists out of 15 nominations submitted by booksellers and customers: Oblong Books & Music (Rhinebeck, N.Y.); Powell’s City of Books (Portland, Ore.); BookPeople (Austin, Tex.); and Children’s Book World (Los Angeles).
In addition to a $500 cash prize and WNDB swag, an event featuring at least one and perhaps several contributors to Flying Lessons and Other Stories (Crown) will be held at Charis Books at a future date. Flying Lessons, edited by WNDB co-founder Ellen Oh, is a collection of stories for young readers celebrating diversity by such critically acclaimed authors as Kwame Alexander, Matt de la Peña, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, and Jacqueline Woodson, among others.
Look will officially receive the award next March at the Library of Congress, where WNDB will hold its third annual Walter Dean Myers Awards ceremony, honoring an author whose work features a protagonist from a diverse background or whose work addresses diversity in a meaningful way.
WNDB team member I.W. Gregorio said in a statement in January that the Bookseller of the Year Award was inspired by the controversy in 2015 over the picture book A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, which many believed depicted the enslavement of African-Americans in the antebellum South in a positive light.
“The award comes from the idea that booksellers really have the power to hand-sell to get specific books into people’s hands,” Gregorio noted when the award was launched. “After the controversy over A Fine Dessert, WNDB really wanted to focus on positivity, rather than denigrating a book.”
S.E. Sinkhorn, WNDB PR committee chair, stated about this year’s program, “It was an incredibly rewarding judging process: truly every nominated store is a champion and inspiration from WNDB’s standpoint. We hope to see all these stores (and more) on our nominee list next year. We’d also like to highlight specific initiatives: the fabulous BookPeople and Oblong Books’ shelf-talkers, Children’s Book World’s community engagement, and Powell’s displays and e-promotions of diverse books.”