A lot has changed since the American Booksellers Association launched its inaugural Winter Education Institute in Long Beach, Calif., in January 2006 to reprise the educational programming at BookExpo on the West Coast. The conference has expanded to four days (January 21–24 this year), started moving around the country, and has grown to include more original programming, including two author receptions and a town hall. This year’s program includes an antitrust symposium in Washington, D.C.; a tour of the Penguin Random House warehouse in Westminster, Md.; and a session titled “Life Cycle of the Book” with local author Laura Lippmann, booksellers Bradley Graham of D.C.’s Politics & Prose and Tegan Tigani of Seattle’s Queen Anne Book Company, and senior members of the publishing staff at HarperCollins. There’s even an opening night party celebrating romance authors in conjunction with Bookstore Romance Day, introduced last year.

Attendance at the institute has grown significantly since the early years, when it had difficulty hitting an attendance cap of 500: five years ago the ABA raised the cap to accommodate increased requests. The number of authors has also grown. This year approximately 135 authors and illustrators will attend; one recent addition is American Dirt (Flatiron, Jan.) author Jeanine Cummins, who will foster conversations around immigration in connection with her book. In addition to authors participating in programming, a number of publishers large and small have brought even more authors to meet with booksellers, including French journalist Philippe Lançon (Disturbances: Surviving Charlie Hebdo, Europa, out now) and musician Mikel Jollett (Hollywood Park, Celadon, May).

This year’s Winter Institute also marks the first public appearance of the association’s first female CEO, Allison Hill, who will officially start her new job on March 1. She is currently finishing up her duties as president and CEO of Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif. Hill’s presence in her new role will be bittersweet, as the association prepares to toast outgoing ABA CEO Oren Teicher.

Also on the agenda is an afternoon of programming presented by the Independent Publishers Caucus, an advocacy group for independent presses that was inspired by ABA’s advocacy for and nurturing of independent bookstores. Currently IPC has more than 40 dues-paying members and an all-volunteer steering committee that meets via Zoom every month, according to cofounder Dan Simon, publisher of Seven Stories Press.

“Last year we were able to jump in as an organization supporting important initiatives of support for booksellers in need, whether those affected by the Northern California fires or those in the fight for human rights at the Mexican border,” Simon says. “For 2020 we’re looking at several possible new alliances with organizations that cover bookselling or that support independent publishers.”

IPC is also planning to take over the Indie Playlist program (introduced last spring by several indie publishers, including Seven Stories) to encourage indie bookstores to create thematic displays around books from indie publishers.

Fittingly, given its authorcentric focus, the conference will close with a celebration of one of Baltimore’s best-known writers and filmmakers, John Waters, including a special screening of Hairspray.

Although final bookseller figures weren’t available at press time, ABA COO Joy Dallanegra-Sanger said that the 2020 conference will be “the biggest institute ever, with more booksellers attending and a very full slate of authors and event sponsors,” including lead sponsor Ingram. This year, ABA is offering day passes for booksellers, in addition to the option to attend the entire conference. “The institute has grown to become one of the most important events in the book industry calendar,” continued Dallanegra-Sanger. “We’re hoping that WI 15 will be a valuable opportunity for booksellers to learn, network, and discover, and we can’t wait to welcome everyone to Baltimore.”

Check out more stories below on Winter Institute 15

WI15: Finding Her Voice: PW Talks with Rebecca Solnit

WI15: Writing About Love—and Dogs: PW Talks with Jennifer Finney Boylan

WI15: Preserving African-American Writings: PW Talks with W. Paul Coates

WI15: Unearthing the Roots of Racism: PW Talks with Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

WI15: Bookselling in The City That Reads

WI15: Bookshop Hopes to Change Bookish E-commerce

WI15: Writing in A Time of Crisis

WI15: Adult Authors to Meet

WI15: Children’s Authors and Illustrators to Meet

WI15: Adult Galleys to Grab

WI15: Children’s Galleys to Grab