Special to the AmNews

This year’s ninth annual Brooklyn Book Festival took place from Monday, Sept. 15 through Sunday, Sept. 21. All week long, opportunities to celebrate literature were presented throughout the borough, with events such as “ringShout: A Place for Black Literature’s Fifth Annual Bookend Reading,” “Poets & Passion—Talkin’ Dub: Mikey Smith Tribute,” “New York Celebrates Sonia Sanchez,” “A Literary Salon and Reading with Author Tiphanie Yanique,” “Roxane Gay in Conversation with Anna Homes” and “Storytelling and the Black Experience,” an event that featured AmNews contributor Herb Boyd.

But the festival’s largest and most recognized event was the gathering Sunday, Sept. 21, which featured a sprawling display of booths and discussion panel stages from Downtown Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza all the way to Brooklyn Borough Hall’s plaza space. Many people commented that the festival seems to be attracting more participants every year. The event has proved to be an excellent draw for African-American authors looking to increase their followings among avid readers.

“I found out about the Brooklyn Book Festival actually online, because I live in Delaware and there isn’t too much of this sort of thing going on in Delaware,” author Janice Ross explained as she stood at a booth selling copies of her nine published books. “I’ve always loved New York—and Brooklyn, in particular—for the culture and for the blend and mixture you have here, so I decided this was the place to be.”

Ross, who also writes paranormal fiction under the pseudonym Jaxx Summers, explained that she writes about family, relationships and culture. “I try to not only tell a story but also to tell a tale that others can learn from,” she said. If it’s in one of my cultural series, then it’s about a journey—about people learning the history of a country, as well as enjoying a good read. If it’s about a relationship, then the relationship includes lessons learned—the heartfelt things that people will learn.” Ross has self-published her works under the imprint Cultural Cocktails, a name she chose because her emphasis on writing about culture is for her “like having a good cocktail—kicking back and enjoying it, just like you would do while enjoying a good book.”

Tina M. Brown said she found out about the Brooklyn Book Festival from Janice Ross. She came into Brooklyn from Pennsylvania and sold copies of her latest book, “Struggles of the Women Folk” (Createspace, 2013), a work loosely based on stories that her grandmothers told her. “The majority of my sales come from events like this, but I also do speaking engagements, just to get the word out about my work,” Brown said. In this, her third book, Brown said she writes about a young Black girl named Georgie, who grows up in southern Virginia during the 1940s and tries to make a better life for herself. Georgie has to confront prejudice and poverty, and the book takes readers on her journey as she navigates life.

Brown said she’s had a terrific response to “Struggles of the Women Folk,” as well as to her other works. She says this is what has led to her writing and networking more with people like Ross. Ross, Brown and four other authors recently collaborated on a collection of short stories called “Just Between Us—Inspiring Stories by Women” (Calidream Publishing, 2013), which is available as a free download on the Internet. “Just Between Us” has been in the top 10 on Amazon and Kindle in multiple categories for almost a year. “All of that kind of reaction has just spurred my enthusiasm to continue to write,” Brown said.

“I’ve been making books for 14 years,” said Bryan Collier, as he showed off his artwork and the many books he has illustrated. Collier publishes with Henry Holt & Company and is a past recipient of the Coretta Scott King Book Award and the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award. As an artist, he explained, “My first book I wrote and illustrated is called ‘Uptown’ (Holt, 2000). That was the very first book. And I’ve illustrated 26 picture books by various authors.” Collier said it clicked in his head after graduating in 1989 from Pratt Institute that he needed to make some children’s picture books, because he didn’t see any books with people who looked like him. After seven years of going to every major publisher with his artwork, he was finally given a chance.

“I don’t know if they saw me coming after a while or what, because I was there several times,” he recalled. “But Henry Holt publishing said, ‘OK, we’ll give you a shot. We want you to write and illustrate a book.’ I said, ‘Well, what do you want me to write about?’ They said, ‘Write about what you know.’ I had lived in Harlem for over 20 years, so that was my home, and I knew my home. So that’s where ‘Uptown’ was born. I took a little boy, who was my nephew, who posed for the book, and he walked around Harlem talking about everything that he liked about Harlem, so that’s how ‘Uptown’ was born.”

With his booth packed with people viewing his art and book covers, Collier said this was his second year of participating in the Brooklyn Book Festival. As he sold another book, he smiled and termed the festival “the best,” adding, “There’s nothing like Brooklyn.”