The annual New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA) gathering in Providence, RI, boasted big names and even one big outburst, when the host of the New England Book Awards Banquet, Joe Donahue, kicked off the evening with a loud expletive about Amazon.
Yet the prevailing atmosphere was intimate and easygoing at the three-day gathering, held from September 18-20.
Porter Square Books marketing director Josh Cook’s session “Be a Nerd, Not a Brand,” was representative of the broader balance between business education and an encouragement for booksellers to be who they are. At the beginning of his session, which aimed to get booksellers to sell more books through social media, Cook promised that attendees would, “come away with actions and a mindset for sharing joy with your community on social media.”
In the midst of the show, the New England Children’s Book Advisory Council (NECBA) celebrated its 30th anniversary, starting with a session focused on the Windows & Mirrors Project, an initiative that seeks to highlight books with diverse perspectives. The presentation ended with over 40 audience members giving book recommendations to one another.
Opportunities for booksellers to share freely was on the mind of NEIBA executive director Steve Fischer, from the outset. Fisher gave a test run to a closed workshop exclusively for owners to share best practices on sensitive issues like hiring and payroll. “Our idea was, if you have a one-hour gathering, and if [owners and managers] enjoy it, then that will tell us enough to do a [stand-alone] retreat,” said Fischer.
Booksellers also took time to find forthcoming titles to champion. Totsie McGonagle of Buttonwood Books & Toys in Cohasset, Mass., recommended The Book of Separation (Houghton, Sep.) by Tova Mirvis. Jenny Lyons of the Vermont Bookshop, in Middlebury, VT, was enthralled by Where the Animals Go (Norton, Sep.), which she described as “graphically beautiful.”
The New England Book Awards banquet dinner captured the spirit of the show. Donahue opened to loud applause after yelling "F*** Amazon," as he stepped to the podium. The rest of the dinner, though, displayed the warm camaraderie of the close-knit regional community.
President’s Award-winner and acclaimed novelist John Irving told the audience that his ties to the region were so strong that he thinks of himself "more as a New England writer than as an American writer.” After the event, Irving hung around to chat with booksellers and the Independent Spirit award from Water Street Bookstore, which received the Independent Spirit award, and is located in the author's hometown of Exeter, NH.
Award recipients also included one current and one former bookseller; young adult author Mackenzi Lee is the events manager at Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston, and children’s author Melissa Sweet was previously a bookseller at Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, Mass.
Nominated in the fiction category, writer Hannah Tinti received a standing ovation when she rose from her seat with a ukulele in hand, serenading booksellers with an ode whose refrain was “Thank you for being a friend.”
“I’m so grateful each and every day,” sang Tinti, “that indie bookstores are here to stay / so stand and take a bow.”