Harlem Book Fair 2016 Wrap Up

Eartha Watts-Hicks, Author of "Love Changes" reads at Harlem Book Fair 2016
Eartha Watts-Hicks, Author of “Love Changes” reads at Harlem Book Fair 2016

The 2016 Harlem Book Fair, convened Saturday on 135th street as it has in past years. A major literary event in the Harlem community, the fair also draws visitors from around the country. This year, I participated as an attendee, roaming around the avenues to see the assortment of vendors present at this year’s event. Among the vendors I saw present were the National Writer’s Union, Calabar Imports, and Revolution Books. I also saw a few authors present. Among them were Dara Kalima, Eartha Watts-Hicks, Haikeem Stokes, Taylor Bideau, and Omar Tyree. Literary personalities like Troy Johnson, the founder of AALBC, and Noelle Santos, who will be opening the Lit Bar next year were also there.

Harlem Book Fair founder Max Rodriguez (right) introduces Dr. Julianne Malveaux
Harlem Book Fair founder Max Rodriguez (right) introduces Dr. Julianne Malveaux (left)

Instead of being stationed in one area as a vendor in past years, I had the opportunity to sit in on one of the Author Talks. I attended the panel: Are We Better Off? Race, Obama, and Public Policy by Dr. Julianne Malveaux. She used her book about the Obama years to springboard a conversation about what this president has.. and has not done for African-Americans over the past two terms. A refreshingly honest discussion on the actual record of president Obama, Dr. Malveaux pointed out how the first Black president did things to harm African-American interests, for example cutting monies for HBCU’s. Noting that Obama did not show the same level of passion on Black issues, she referred to him as the “Scolder-in-chief”. In the talk, outlining some of the data on Black poverty, Dr. Malveaux noted that Black Americans have lost a third of wealth due to the housing market crash. These are not easy things to face, but they must be discussed.

Overall, I had a good experience at the Harlem Book Fair. However, it would feel dishonest to end this post without talking about some of the things that I did notice about the fair yesterday. When I got there, the first thing that I noticed is that the vendors stopped about halfway through the block on Seventh Avenue. In year’s past, the Harlem Book Fair had much more going on. There were events going on at The Schomburg, Countee Cullen Library, and the main stage outside. Yesterday, it just felt like there were less vendors there, as well as less people. The Schomburg didn’t have any event going on about the fair from what I witnessed. In the month leading up to the Harlem Book Fair, there wasn’t a lot of promotion of it. I noticed that, but still came out to support the event and build with folks in the literary community despite this. As a person who is an advocate for literacy, I want this event to continue to be a draw for readers and writers. I add this to the article in the spirit of honest feedback, and I want the fair to do things differently for 2017. 

For those who attended yesterday’s Harlem Book Fair, what was your experience like? 




  1. I agree it was less vendors this year than pervious years. I also notice much less people then previous years. I walked two blocks from Lenox to Frederick Douglass and had a easy time walking in the middle of the street. Pervious years it was difficult to walk up and down the street because of crowds. The other observations was not enough promotion of this event and no promotion to speaking discussion which I believe is one of the biggest draws.

  2. There were much fewer vendors and participants, the time wasn’t even announced on the website, and I had no idea who the guest speakers would be, until I got there. It’s ironic that, shortly before the Book Fair, some uptown book vendors had their books confiscated after “neighbors” complained. Are the Book Fair organizers caving in to gentrification, as well?

    I wish I had known Dr. Malveaux would be there; I would have loved to hear her speak. The event was poorly publicized, and imagine my surprise when I walked in the Schomburg and was told the events would be across the street at the Hospital, which 1)didn’t look all that inviting and 2) had I not asked the security guard, I would have had absolutely no idea where the discussions were being held, since there were no signs outside the hospital, or in the lobby.

  3. Mark, there were certainly fewer vendors and attendees compared to previous years. As far as panel discussions and workshops, the number of these were greatly diminished as well.

    The lack of corporate participation, live C-Span BookTV coverage, or even active support and participation by New York industry professionals like myself is unfortunate…no, it is tragic really. The Harlem Book Fair is an important institution, but reasons for its current state are plentiful, complex, and likely intractable.

    On a positive note; I spend a lot of time behind a computer screen, so it is always fun to meet so many authors in one place and connect with them personally. The Book Fair has always been a great venue networking; the hugs, smiles, and exchange of kind words gives meaning to everything I do on the web.

    Some of the authors I got a chance to meet included; Cherry (from North Carolina), whose book we edited; there was Geri Spencer Hunter (from California), whose book we gave a rave review and was a finalist for a Wheatley Award; then there was AALBC.com bestselling author, Cortez Rainey (from Maryland), and many others. All of the photos I posted of these authors were taken that day.

    I spent the day talking to folks. The ability to making stronger connections and celebrating what we do is what it is all about anyway. It was good to see you yesterday Marc!

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