Winter Institute 15’s last day kicked off with the usual university and small press presentations during breakfast. This year, 13 presses participated in the event, beginning with Chicago's Agate Publishing’s overview of its program and concluding with the University of Toronto’s announcement of two new trade imprints that it is launching. But the announcement made by University of Chicago Press sales director John Kessler that, beginning in spring or early summer, the Chicago Distribution Center, which distributes books for 130 academic and scholarly presses headquartered in the U.S. and elsewhere, is going to offer free freight with a 15-book minimum order, upstaged everyone else. (Although the University of Texas Press marketing director Gianna LaMorte came close when she told booksellers that the indies sold more copies than any other channels of Go Ahead In the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest by Hanif Abdurraqib.)
“The CDC’s announcement is the biggest thing that’s happened here all morning,” David Enyeart of Next Chapter Booksellers in St. Paul, Minn., told PW. “We order so many books from the University of Minnesota Press. This is such exciting news.”
While Friday’s sessions focused upon what Winter Institute is supposed to be about—education on the business of bookselling—it was two conversations concerning race in American history and popular culture that most excited booksellers, resulting in lively discussions that continued for the rest of the day, and persisted even at the airport the next day. "Bookselling and Liberation: Black Bookstores in America from the ‘60s to the Present," moderated by Columbia University history professor Joshua Davis, featured Black Classic Press publisher W. Paul Coates; Shirikiana Aima Gerina of Sankofa Video Books and Café in Washington, D.C.; Nati Kaumu-Nataki of Everyone’s Place in Baltimore; and Judy Richardson, representing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The group discussed the rise of African-American bookstores and presses during the Civil Rights movement, their symbiotic relationship, and their impact into the present day.
“Literacy for black readers is essential,” Kaumu-Nataki said. “The quest for literacy through publishing, through bookselling, through writing, has always been part of our existence.”
Noting that Black Classic Press grew out of the Black Panther movement and that “many of the people who were fundamental to it and worked with me back then were in jail,” Coates added: “There are people who don’t want information to be made available. Do not feel safe. It is still happening.”
Later in the day, Ibram X. Kendi, an American University history professor and the author of Stamped From the Beginning, participated in a conversation with Jason Reynolds, the newly-appointed Ambassador for Young People's Literature, whose book for young readers aged 12+ cowritten with Kendi, Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Mar.), is being billed as a “remix” of what Reynolds called “Stamped Senior.” The two discussed the how and why of the central premise of both books: that racism takes two forms—segregation (nature) and assimilation (environment)—both insidious and both to be overcome to liberate children of all races and help them to fulfill their potential and develop healthy relationships.
“There is nothing wrong with black people. There’s a lot wrong with America, but nothing wrong with black people,” Reynolds said, explaining that the children’s edition of Stamped “puts young people right in the middle of the conversation” about the history of race and racism in the U.S. When asked how booksellers should hand sell it to their customers, Reynolds suggested that they declare Stamped to be “the boldest book about racism you are ever going to get.”
Hannah Oliver Depp, owner of Loyalty Bookstores in the Washington, D.C., area, said afterwards that the conversation between Reynolds and Kendi was, for her, "the highlight of the conference and an excellent reminder of why the work we do matters—and that it is on us." Summer Dawn Laurie of Books, Inc. in San Francisco, told PW that this was the discovery of the show for her, saying, “I am hoping that Stamped will give me the language and techniques to use in the store. I want customers on all sides to read this book. And I am especially excited that it’s nonfiction.”
Ironically, the book most buzzed about at WI15, though, was a novel, already quite familiar to booksellers, that was published on January 21, just as WI15 was kicking off: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. While some booksellers said that they intend to assemble a reading list for those interested in reading more about the issues raised in American Dirt, other booksellers were less sanguine. “It added a layer of stress to the conference,” admitted Pamela Klinger-Horn of Excelsior Bay Books in suburban Minneapolis. Excelsior Bay is hosting Cummins on February 7 as part of its Literature Lovers Night Out authors series. On Saturday evening, Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Mo., announced that, due to customer feedback and other concerns, it was cancelling an author event with Cummins that had been scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
As for the books that booksellers grabbed in the galley room and elsewhere, there seemed to be two tracks: literary fiction either set in one city or addressing the environment and climate change; and nonfiction that focused upon the natural world, and, in some cases, upon climate change. Paris, in particular, proved a popular setting. A number of booksellers PW talked to raved about Paris Hours (Flatiron Books, May) by Alex George—the Columbia, Mo., indie bookseller’s third novel—with Mary O’Malley describing it as “beautifully weaving several stories together in one day in Paris"; Paris Library (Atria, June) by Janet Skeslien Charles, which Maxwell Gregory of Lake Forest Books in Lake Forest, Ill., called a “stunning work of historical fiction”; and Three Hours in Paris (Soho Crime, April) by Cara Black, which Kate Rattenborg of Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa, described as Black’s first standalone after 19 Aimee LeDuc mysteries, a book “that I can definitely get my customers interested in. I thoroughly enjoyed it, a World War II thriller set in Paris. It made me feel as if I were in Paris.”
Klinger-Horn of Excelsior Bay and many others raved about Migrations (Flatiron Books, Aug.) by Charlotte McConaghy, with Klinger-Horn explaining that the novel, set in remote Greenland with a plot inspired by the impact of climate change, is “very timely.” The Bear (Bellevue Literary Press, Feb.), a novel by Andrew Krivak, a fable about the relationship between the two last humans on earth and their environment, also created a buzz among booksellers.
A number of booksellers talked up Yaa Gyasi's Transcendent Kingdom (Knopf, Sept.), with Loyalty's Depp saying of this sequel to 2016's Homegoing: "I think was the first galley to go from the galley room, and if fisticuffs had broken out I would not have been surprised. I didn’t even manage to get one and that weirdly brought me joy."
As for nonfiction, while Rattenborg buzzed about Solved: How the World’s Great Cities Are Fixing the Climate Crisis (University of Toronto Press, Sept.) by David Miller, her daughter, Sarah Krammen, also a Dragonfly bookseller, talked up books containing reflections upon nature and the environment and being published by small presses. On Lighthouses (Two Lines Press, May) by Jazmina Barrera, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney, reflects upon the mystique of lighthouses and water surrounding them. “It’s comparable to Bluets by Maggie Nelson,” Krammen said. “It’s just lovely, and beautifully written, which is a credit to the author and to the translator.” Krammen and many others also praised World of Wonders (Milkweed, Aug.), a collection of essays about the natural world by Aimee Nezhukamatathil. Every single bookseller who told PW about it insisted that its cover contained the most gorgeous art of any book at this year's conference.
Winter Institute will head back to the Midwest next year, where it will take place February 7-10, 2021, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Update: In an earlier version of this novel, the author of the poetry collection, Bluets, was misidentified. It has been corrected.