In a partnership that may turn out to be a rare, notable success during the pandemic, the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association and the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance kicked off a five-day combined regional conference on Monday. The opening day saw more than 520 booksellers and 95 exhibitors and sponsors in attendance for an event boasting a calendar of 85 total events.
Billed as “New Voices New Rooms,” the conference launched with a conversation between author Tami Charles and illustrator Bryan Collier about their forthcoming picture book All Because You Matter (Orchard, Oct.). Charles penned the book for her son Christopher as a way to share a proud history of Black and brown people throughout history with him.
Charles urged booksellers to reflect on the meaning of the book in the era of Black Lives Matter and to share it widely. “I ask that you take the time to really think about the theme of the book, the legacy, and the people from which our children come from,” she said. “Will you normalize conversations about these important topics, and truly, for those who need it most?” Setting a tone for the conference, Charles told attendees: “This is not the time to be silent, especially now, especially during these extremely trying times.” She added: “Now more than ever, we need to remind our children of all the ways in which they matter.”
NAIBA Board president Bill Reilly, co-owner of A River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, N.Y., called the conversation “outstanding,” adding “It was so incredibly personal and powerful.”
Booksellers continued to take up urgent issues throughout the day—not just in the content of books, but also regarding managing their bookstores in challenging times. John Cavalier, the owner of Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, La., led a session on emergency planning, ranging from responses to temporary inconveniences like street construction to major natural disasters like the flooding that shut down his city in 2016.
“Emergency preparedness and resiliency planning is not about having all the answers,” he said, “It's about being prepared.” Planning for an emergency can be a positive, he argued, as emergencies can result in opportunities. Cavalier provided tips to booksellers on how best to prepare for emergencies beforehand with a slide presentation that began with the suggestion to assess threats and implement a crisis communications plan.
Cavalier also recommended that booksellers reach out to local community and professional associations as well as to the Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation. And he suggested diversifying revenue streams in order to mitigate the impact of any disasters affecting the store's bottom line. Cavalier supplemented his presentation with recommended reading, including Colonel Chris Hadfield's book An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth and Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo.
Meanwhile, an afternoon children’s editors buzz panel made plain the importance publishers are placing on showcasing books by Black and diverse authors. At the panel, five editors were given the opportunity to talk about a handful of titles. Among those editors was Denene Millner, who spoke about her new, eponymous imprint at Simon & Schuster, which she said was established “to celebrate the everyday humanity of black children.”
To illustrate her point, Millner highlighted the book Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera (August), a picture book about a child comparing her life to that of her mother. In one vignette, the child breaks her mother’s teacup, but instead of disciplining her, the mother reacts mildly. “The stereotype is that Black moms are stern disciplinarians,” Millner said. “This book acknowledges that ‘sometimes things break.’”
Along with education and panels, the opening day of the conference featured a storytime with four children’s authors and a virtual version of the show floor, with opportunities for booksellers to meet with publisher representatives. SIBA board president Kelly Justice, owner of Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Va., said that booksellers were enthusiastic for the coming sessions throughout the week.
“It's very early, but I think that online access and lack of financial barriers to attendance are responsible for the increased attendance,” Justice said. “But I also believe that my colleagues and I just miss the fellowship of being together and, speaking for myself especially, we feel a need to be in some sort of space where others understand what you're going through right now.”