In regards to 2014’s BookCon, I couldn’t agree more with the opening lines to Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
A few week’s back I bought a ticket to BookCon on a whim because I heard that Amy Poehler would be present. She’s one of my favorite comedic forces and I jumped on the opportunity to witness her amazingness in person. But after perusing the BookCon website, I started to jot down some other panels and exhibitors of note that would validate my $30 impromptu ticket purchase.
Among these “other” events was the discovery of the grass roots campaign We Need Diverse Books. But before I get to WNDB, a quick reflection on what I found at BookCon before the doors even opened.
I arrived at the Javits Center on the edge of Manhattan, in midtown, at approximately 8AM after only having four hours of sleep. The night previously, I witnessed Misty Copeland debut in Coppélia and had perhaps one too many drinks with old friends after the performance.
After presenting my printed off QR code proving that I bought the said $30 ticket, I paid $3 for a coat check and was asked to head down the escalators, out the glass doors, and onto the bright cement where hoards, yes hoards, of odd ducks waited in a snake like line.
Earbuds in, trying not to make contact with those surrounding me, I waited in line among teenaged versions of my past self. There were boys and girls decked out in The Fault in Our Stars gear, pale indoor types sporting black, satanic looking accessories, and the few grey haired, slightly over weight individuals who never seemed to mature into responsible, adult hood. I felt quite out of place. A young woman named Salal (I think) befriended me and she gushed with excitement on all the panels and authors she was about to witness. She was particularly anxious about seeing Veronica Roth in person. As the doors opened promptly at 9AM, all jumped to their feet, giddy with excitement, and we made our way indoors.
Not really knowing the popularity of the panels I wanted to attend, I headed straight for the room that would host the We Need Diverse Books panel a good hour ahead of time. I let myself in, took a seat, but then was approached and asked to wait outside. I had accidentally stumbled into the room, not noticing the authors and moderators still practicing their speeches.
In the hallway outside, I stood about sixth in line and met the likes of Tameka Mullins and Jennifer Poe. Authors Lamar Giles and Jess Verdi handed out blank prompt papers and asked the forming line to complete this sentence, “We need diverse books because…” I forget exactly what I wrote, but everyone’s answers sent chills down my arms and pumped me up for the panel. It’s very rare, for me at least, to find myself surrounded by like minded individuals and to know that so many answered a cry for support.
By 10AM, I was seated next to Tameka and Jennifer for the diversity panel and the room quickly filled and evolved into standing room only. Some older gentleman moved to the front of the room and proclaimed out to the diverse crowd, “We’re in a room full of people that aren’t supposed to exist!” His statement brought forth both silence and cheers, and I, slightly confused at my own feelings, just smiled because it was true.
The panel began and Ellen Oh, who seemed to be the driving force behind WNDB, introduced the authors and moderator who would be speaking. At the table were: Lamar Giles, Mike Jung, Aisha Saeed, Grace Lin, Matt de la Peña and Jacqueline Woodson – all of whom I’ve never heard of.
Their speeches were inspiring, their words true, and despite their individual and combined success I wondered where were these authors with such energy and claims to outreach when I was in school?
One question the moderator asked went something like: When was the first time you read a book with a character like “you” and how did that make you feel? Only a few authors were able to answer that question. Grace Lin referenced a cheerleader series that featured an Asian cheerleader, confessing that she only read them, despite the series’ awfulness, because of this one, minor, Asian character. Lawrence Giles referenced John Steptoe’s Stevie. When Mike Jung took the microphone and said that as a child, he never came across a piece of children’s literature that featured someone like him and how he only imagined what that would have meant to him as a child if he had, his words made my heart heavy.
Aisha Saeed presented even more troubling facts: Only 7.5% of the 3,000+ children’s books published the US contained diverse characters. She said, “This is a confirmation [for the need of diversity] that no one can shrug away.”
Another YA author, Marika I believe [failed to get her name!], went on to discuss how the lack of diversity in children’s and YA literature, “teaches readers that their stories and voices don’t matter and don’t exist…we choose to keep them invisible and alone.”
Matt de La Peña added, “[diversity in literature] is coming for you no matter what.”
The panel was a success with many questions and comments in praise of the panel, campaign and authors. The BookCon organizers even had to come in a few times to remind the moderator that it was time to wrap, but obviously this event was far from over.
I left the panel discussion empowered and inspired and perhaps I just might enter the Tu Book New Vision Contest for diverse literature for fantasy, science fiction or mystery.
Next up on my agenda was Amy Poehler. Even though it was encouraged not to line up for an event prior to an hour away from its start, no one really followed that rule. Like the seemingly docile book nerds that we were, a huge line had formed near the entrance of the Amy Poehler event. Despite the constant “warnings” of the red polo wearing security guards, we held our own in the “non-line” we formed. However, the security guards, perhaps bored, perhaps trying to stretch some muscle, kept yelling at us, saying that we couldn’t line up.
When it came time to officially form the line, instead of saying “step forward please,” the men in red polos made matters worse by opening up random sections of the roped off “line area” causing most to shuffle into the official line at random, which in turn angered those at the front of the naturally formed “non-line.” People were tripped and knocked to the ground all because they couldn’t accept our pre-made line in which we all would have gladly fallen into.
I somehow and suddenly couldn’t find a place in line, beyond the metal bars that kept us fans in like cattle, and finally, out of we-need-to-see-Amy-Poehler desperation I was friended and “adopted” by two sisters as we inched our way into the line with a dash of coyness, disguise and deception. Once inside the metal perimeter I bonded with Nadia and Amena, my adopted sisters, both fashion designers and hilarious to boot! We linked our arms as the line moved and Amena found prime seating just in time for Amy Poehler and Martin Short to walk out onto the stage.
Despite the fact that we found ourselves behind a tall camera, thus blocking some of our view, witnessing Amy Poehler on stage was quite electric. Her appearance was everything I hoped it would be! At times serious and heart felt, she promoted her new book with a sense of humility and comedic grace. “I don’t know what to do, this is the first book related thing I’ve had to do,” she went onto say during a fit of laughter.
When asked by Martin Short how did she get her job on SNL, Amy replied, “Like we all do: sleep with the head writer,” who happened to be Tina Fey at the time ;D Other “sound bites” I scribbled down were, “Children like to fuck up all your plans,” “Anyone can deliver your baby in a hospital except for Randy in the gift shop,” and now that she’s single she wanted to reiterate, “I don’t want to fuck your husband.”
Amy Poehler is infectiously funny, beautiful and crass. She doesn’t want us to think her a book a memoir, but rather an in-between book on what she’s accomplished and where she hopes to be in the future. Yes Please, published by Dey Street, will be released on October 28. Happy Halloween to me!
While the whole line situation for Amy Poehler was atrocious, what happened next as I climbed the stairs to the exhibit floor, was just plain ridiculous. The only exhibitor I absolutely wanted to see was Chronicle Books. I admire the brand, interact with them on Social Media from time to time and think it a grand dream of mine to one day work for them. However, as I approached the booth around 130PM, I found the booth roped off and a line formed because of one non-book item: Grumpy Cat. At first I was calm, acknowledging the fact that Grumpy Cat was an internet sensation that had fans that wanted to see him/her, er, the cat. I asked when the cat would be gone and I was told 2PM.
2PM came and passed and as I neared the Chronicle Books booth for the second time I still witnessed a line and was informed that Grumpy Cat was still in the booth. “What time will he leave,” I asked. “2PM,” I was told. “But it’s 215,” I said, which was met with a shrug of a shoulder.
I circled the floor again and at 230 it seemed that perhaps, us non-Grumpy Cat fans, would get a chance to experience the awesomeness of Chronicle Books. While we were temporarily let in, literally three minutes passed and we were asked to leave. “Why?” I asked, having only been able to set eyes on one shelf of books. “We’re shutting down,” they said. “For good? Like, you’re breaking down the booth?” “Yes.” they said. “But you’re the only booth I wanted to see!” I complained, becoming slightly belligerent and frustrated that a cat took precedence over the books. After all, it’s called BookCon, not CatCon. They hearded us out the booth, spewing out “apologies” for the inconvenience despite the fact that it was in the middle of the afternoon and booths weren’t supposed to wrap until 4PM. I was handed a business card and I tweeted out my angst.
The following morning Chronicle Books tweeted back, but still, it was a slap in the face on how they treated us Chronicle Book lovers and picked a cat over their followers.
Next up on my event was book-inspired speed dating but I was no longer in the mood. Plus, most of the male population, at least in the BookCon arena for we weren’t allowed in the BEA booths which I also didn’t know prior to buying my ticket (lesson learned), appeared to be unkempt fanboys.
Also to note, it seemed for a book convention aimed toward readers/fans, within the publisher’s booths, there was a serious lack of books. Perhaps it was because I didn’t make it to the exhibition floor until after 1PM. But I suspect all the “good stuff” was held for the BEA attendees across the carpeted way….
One last amazing thing that did happen however, was in that I was able to exchange a few words of Aisha Saeed who presented at the diverse books panel and she handed me an advance copy of her book Written in the Stars, which I can’t wait to read!
I left BookCon in a rather foul mood and with a headache but I am grateful for the experience that I had. Would I go again? Maybe? Will I buy a BEA ticket if possible instead? Definitely.