Washington, D.C.–based American University will be the site of the first National Antiracist Book Festival, providing a platform for nearly 50 authors and publishing professionals to discuss policies and power structures that fuel racism in America, as well as the efforts being made to dismantle those systems. The festival will be held April 27 and includes authors Jason Reynolds, Imani Perry, Carole Anderson and 2019 Pulitzer Prize recipient David Blight.
“As an author I’ve traveled all over the country to book festivals and I’ve been able to see the excitement of people and how it brings people together,” said founder Ibram Kendi, who received the 2016 National Book Award for Stamped From the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and is also director of the university’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center.
Kendi and his colleagues began planning the festival after he arrived at American University as founding director of the center in 2017. “We wanted to bring together authors whose books are part of the antiracist movement to create a more equitable America,” Kendi said. “These books are serious about creating racial justice and these books express the equality of racial groups, so we wanted to bring these people together.”
The festival’s author and editor discussions are organized by themes. For instance, Princeton scholar Imani Perry and Well-Read Black Girl author Gloria Edim will participate in a discussion called "Sharing and complicating the stories of black women." Young adult authors Jason Reynolds and Jacqueline Woodson will talk with one another about "Writing to capture the hearts and minds of youth."
“We’re putting people together who we feel are going to…have a great conversation on stage,” said Kendi.
One of the festival’s co-sponsors is D.C.-based First Book, a non-profit that distributes millions of books and other resources to educators and students nationwide. Kyle Zimmer, president, CEO, and founder of First Book, said the organization is an enthusiastic supporter of the festival. "Representation and inclusion in children’s books are building blocks of educational equality," she said. "We can work to close the gap in educational resources that plagues American schools, but that isn't enough. Children need to see from the very beginning that their stories have value, and the stories of those who are not like them have value.”
The festival has sold out of day passes and is continuing to sell passes to individual events. 2,500 attendees are expected, and Kendi is already looking to make the festival an annual event. While this year’s fair focuses on the black experience, Kendi said future years will have different themes. “We would like to completely turn over the author list,” Kendi said. “We don’t want to be bringing back the same authors each year, and the good thing is that there are so many great authors out there.”