This year's breakfast keynoters are authors who care deeply about business—especially the business of writing good books. They include bestselling author Roxane Gay, whose newest collection of short stories, Difficult Women, is just out, and Kim Scott (Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity), who has been an adviser to a number of tech companies and was a member of the faculty at Apple University. In addition, acclaimed Nashville author and bookseller Ann Patchett (Commonwealth) will be in conversation with 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl (Becoming Grandma) about writing, publishing, and bookselling, with a focus on the special connection between authors and indie booksellers.
Bookstores and Diversity, with Bad Feminist Author Roxane Gay
Since the publication of her bestselling collection of essays, Bad Feminist, in 2014, 42-year-old Roxane Gay, an associate professor of English at Purdue University, has gone from strength to strength. Her 2015 TED Talk about the book went viral. Her first novel, An Untamed State, will be brought to the screen for Fox Searchlight Pictures by Gina Prince-Bythewood and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, director and star respectively of Beyond the Lights. Gay will cowrite the screenplay. She became one of the first black women to write for Marvel, for its World of Wakanda series. Gay has a new collection of short fiction, Difficult Women (Grove), which pubbed in January, and a memoir, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (Harper) coming in June.
In her TED Talk, Gay says that writing, in tandem with reading, literally saved her life. When she was 12, a group of boys "broke" her in a gang rape. "My voice was stolen from me," she says, adding that she "wrote [herself] back together" by reading the "words of women who might understand a story like mine," as well as books by women who "understood what it was like to move through the world with brown skin." Initially, she explains, she taught herself how to write like those writers, but then she "learned to write as myself [and] found my voice again."
Through the combination of writing and feminism, Gay became "a little bit brave," she says. Her hope is that the words she writes will help other women realize that "none of us are the nothing the world tries to tell us we are."
Now Gay calls on booksellers to be braver than they already are. She says that while booksellers do rise to the occasion when they need to—because they want to see independent bookselling thrive and because they recognize the importance and role of independent bookstores in communities—that is no longer enough. She urges booksellers to use their power to advocate for diverse books as "powerfully and confidently" as they can. "The responsibility for diversifying the publishing industry is, in part, in their control because a change in demand will change the supply," Gay says. "They can [also] create and contribute to community and do outreach to underserved populations. Bookselling doesn't only have to happen within the space of a store." —Claire Kirch
See Roxane Gay's breakfast keynote on Saturday, January 28, 7:45–9 a.m. in Nicollet Grand Ballroom.
Power-Couple Breakfast, with Lesley Stahl and Ann Patchett
TV journalist Lesley Stahl, a longtime correspondent for 60 Minutes, will be in conversation with bestselling author Ann Patchett, who is also co-owner of five-year-old Parnassus Books in Nashville and whose novel Commonwealth was published by Harper in September 2016.
It's uncertain whether the discussion will veer too far into the subject of Stahl's most recent book, released last spring, Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting (Blue Rider). But should it, Patchett knows what it's like to be on the other end. While Stahl currently spends time caring for her grandchildren, Patchett has experience caring for her grandmother. In her collection of essays This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Patchett writes about her close relationship with her grandmother, whom she cared for before her death.
The idea for Stahl's book came when Blue Rider president and publisher David Rosenthal—who had worked with her on her first book, Reporting Live (1999)—nudged her to write about 60 Minutes. "If I do that I'll get fired for telling all the hidden secrets, or it will be so boring no one will want to read it," she responded. They met for lunch to discuss it, yet Stahl spent most of her time talking about her granddaughter (she now has two) rather than her reporting. "I'm sure I was obnoxious but I just went on and on," she says. Rosenthal told her, "That's your book: being a grandmother." Stahl wasn't sold, but Rosenthal asked her to think about it, and she found that she couldn't stop. She used her journalism skills to explore the experience of grandparenting.
Stahl hopes her book will help change attitudes and stigmas about grandmothers. "The average age of a grandmother in the U.S. is 50," she says. "That's truly young. The idea that grandmothers are little old ladies with permed gray hair who spend all day in the kitchen making chocolate chip cookies is long gone. A lot of grandmothers today have Ph.D.'s and M.B.A.'s and are still working." The book is also about the relationship between mothers and grandmothers. "I hope a lot of young women read it to understand their mothers better," Stahl adds.
Patchett is not only an accomplished author but also one of the most respected indie booksellers in the business. Late last spring, her store doubled in size, to 2,500 sq. ft., when a neighboring store closed. Initially Patchett had no interest in annexing the space, but middle grade author Maile Meloy (the Apothecary series), who was visiting Parnassus at the time, urged her to "go with the timing you get."
The expansion has allowed the store to do more face-out books and stock more copies of titles, Patchett says, as well as hold larger events in-store, like a recent one with Colson Whitehead for The Underground Railroad. "Instead of having one copy of The Great Gatsby we have four," she says. "We were always running out of stuff and not having a book that we should have had in the store." Other personal favorites that Patchett likes to have on hand include Moss Hart's Act One, Patti Smith's Just Kids, Jane Gardam's Old Filth, and Some Writer!, Melissa Sweet's middle grade biography of E.B. White.
Last year the bookstore further expanded with the addition of a bookmobile, Parnassus on Wheels, a longtime dream of co-owner Karen Hayes. Patchett's own dream is to have an airport bookstore, which is currently in the works with Hudson Group. "I spend a third of my life in airports," Patchett says. —Anisse Gross
See Patchett and Stahl's breakfast keynote on Sunday, January 29, 7:45–9 a.m. in Nicollet Grand Ballroom.
How to Be a Kickass Boss, with Kim Scott
Management coach Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity (St. Martin's, Mar.), first came up with the idea of radical candor 16 years ago while running Juice Software in New York City. Two things happened to her at that time back to back. First, 10 employees independently emailed her the same article. "[It] said that people would much rather have a boss who is an asshole than one who is nice and incompetent," Scott says. It made her wonder which kind of boss her employees thought she was, and if those were the only two options.
Then, while Scott was walking her golden retriever puppy, it jumped into the street and was almost hit by a car. A man who saw the near accident said to her, "I can see you really love that dog, [but] you're going to kill that dog if you don't teach it to sit." Scott realized that the man cared about her but was also challenging her. Those two events coalesced into her concept of radical candor, which combines caring with challenging.
Scott believes it is important to be candid with your employees. "Ever since we learned to speak, our parents have told us some version of ‘If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.' But when you become a boss, it's actually your job to say it," Scott says.
Much of Scott's background is in coaching CEOs in Silicon Valley. She was also a member of the faculty at Apple University and worked at Google, leading its AdSense, YouTube, and DoubleClick teams. But Scott believes that the idea of radical candor isn't only for bosses in the tech world. It's just as important for other types of bosses, including booksellers.
In writing Radical Candor, Scott, who has also written three novels, wanted to create a management book that felt more like a collection of short stories. "Management can feel so dry and so boring. But it's actually incredibly, intensely emotional," Scott says. "It's all about human relationships." In the book, Scott focuses on the boss/employee relationship and the institution of "bossdom," which she describes as a recent phenomenon.
"The reason why I have loved my career in business and the reason I wrote the novels and this book is at a certain level all the same reason," Scott says. "I'm really interested in how people can learn to love their work and the people who they work with." —Anisse Gross
See Scott's breakfast keynote on Monday, January 30, 7:45–8:45 a.m. in Nicollet Grand Ballroom.