Heartland Fall Forum, the joint trade show that the Midwest Independent Booksellers and Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Associations have partnered on for more than a decade, kicked off with an awards celebration on October 18 in Detroit’s enormous Marriott Hotel at the Renaissance Center. Isaac Fitzgerald, who emceed the event for the fourth year, set the tone for the gathering—and perhaps for the entire conference—by calling the hundreds of booksellers packed in a hotel ballroom “champions,” congratulating them for “making it through another year of fighting so tirelessly for the written word.”
“So many people help make a book happen, but it is you, the independent bookseller, who guides those books to the readers who need them most,” Fitzgerald said, despite such obstacles as “book bans; the site that shall not be named; algorithms—which can never replace you, no matter how hard they try; rising rents; supply chain issues; and that one customer who forgets the title, but they know ‘the cover is blue—no, green! It came out at some point in the last hundred years.’” Urging booksellers not to lose sight that there is “the joy, the knowledge, the community, the service” in bookselling, Fitzgerald described bookselling as “a calling,” and thanked the assembled booksellers for “keeping the faith.”
After the book awards segment of the program, Source Books co-owner Alyson Jones Turner introduced her mother and business partner, Janet Webster Jones, this year’s Voice of the Heartland recipient, who received three standing ovations before she even uttered a word. Jones, who previously worked as an educator for the Detroit Public Schools system, has been a bookseller for almost 35 years, launching her career in 1989 with popups at church bazaars, fairs, and other community events before moving into a standalone bricks-and-mortar store in 2013.
Citing her background as a speech therapist, Jones noted that the Heartland region encompasses 13 states, “representing one third of the 50 states of the United States of America. Our voices spread across a lot of territory. Our voices have a lot to do and many ways to do it.” She urged her fellow booksellers “to keep books available to all who seek knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.” Doing so, she said, “is our collective voice and our sacred mission as booksellers.” Concluding her remarks, Jones urged her audience to “join together to create literary citizens.”
Following a reception featuring 22 authors signing copies of their books in a glass-walled space overlooking the Detroit River and Windsor, Ontario, across the Canadian border, the party moved almost three miles north to the Midtown area, to Third Man Records. The store and manufacturing facility, located around the corner from Source Booksellers, is owned by musician Jack White (of the White Stripes fame), who engaged in a conversation about the processes of creating music and writing books with author and music critic Hanif Abdurraqib and Ben Barnwell, a journalist and Third Man records executive.
Late on Wednesday, GLIBA executive director Larry Law wrote in an email to PW that he had been “ excited and anxious” as the show opened, “but Isaac knocked it out of the park. The award winners were thoughtful and seeing Janet Jones win the Voice of the Heartland was a career highlight.” Law added, “To end the night with Jack White, Hanif Abdurraqib, and Ben Blackwell at Third Man Records was literally one of coolest events I have ever been a part of. And I am so proud it took place here in the Midwest.”
There are 547 attendees total at Heartland this year, up approximately 30% from last year’s 410 total attendance at Heartland in Saint Louis, and 114 of this year’s attendees are first-timers. Carrie Obry, the executive director of MIBA, announced that next year's conference will take place in Milwaukee, October 7–9. This year's Heartland Fall Forum runs through Friday afternoon.