I’ve been looking forward to the 2nd Annual Bronx Book Festival now for several months, and I can’t believe June is almost here. VIBE Magazine announced the line up last week & I’ll be speaking on a panel & reading from my new love, I Can Write the World, which publishes June 15th. (Have you pre-ordered? No? You’re in luck because here’s a link…)
Panel: Publishing Debunked
Time: 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM
Location: Fordham Plaza Main Stage
Panelists: Norma Perez-Hernandez (Assistant Editor at Kensington), Joshunda Sanders (I Can Write The World), Queressa Robinson (Literary Agent at Nelson Literary Agency), Alexis Daria (Take the Lead)
Moderator: Saraciea J. Fennell, founder of The Bronx is Reading
Description: Join editors, agents, and authors from the Bronx as they debunk the publishing industry for Bronxites.
Signing: 11:45 AM – 12:15 PM
Panel: Indie Power Hour
Time: 12:00 PM – 12:45 PM
Location: Fordham Plaza Main Stage
Description: Join three Bronx-based indie authors as they read from their current works. Readers include Joshunda Sanders (I Can Write The World), Josue Caceres (Bronx Stories & Heartbreak), Yajaira Eduardo (If at First You Don’t Succeed)
And it’s special to me that I’ll be there for a dozen reasons, including that just last year I was writing about the significance of the festival for the Village Voice, fellow Vassar alum and Tight author Torrey Maldonado will also be participating & I’m so proud of Saraceia for reinforcing her vision of creating a literary community that thrives in the Bronx. I hope you see you there — organizers ask that you register for this free event at this link.
I loved Patsy so much that I got the beautiful book hangover that one gets when you miss the 400+ pages that took you on an epic journey. I’m really proud of this TIME Magazine review:
There have been few narrative epics that effectively tally the emotional, logistical, physical, psychological and financial trials of the black female immigrant and mother or, likewise, the impact on the family of a black woman who dares transform herself. Dennis-Benn maps the internal terrain of black women yearning to be free — without romanticizing or ignoring their flaws. Yes, her central characters are persistent, but they can also be naive. Yes, these are strong black women, but they’re also human, and they’re nearly broken by loneliness, despair and a sense that they’ll never belong. Showing us the triumphs and pitfalls of these two parallel rites of passage, Patsy fills a literary void with compassion, complexity and tenderness.
Last year, when I was just starting to freelance for the Village Voice (R.I.P.), I was starting to gather notes about Harlem Eat Up, the annual two-day festival of Harlem’s food scene co-founded by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. When I attended in 2018, my intention was to focus on some graduates of the NYC Food Business Pathways program, one of New York’s food incubators for working class and low-income entrepreneurs with a passion for the food business.
I met the inspiring Jessica Spaulding, who runs the Harlem Chocolate Factory. Spaulding is a Harlem native who expressed some worry about how to keep her business sustainable as money flows to her neighborhood, but doesn’t always find its way to Black entrepreneurs. It was encouraging, then, to see her at the fifth annual Harlem EatUp, which is a true multicultural display of creativity and the expansion of food entrepreneurship as a multi-sensory experience. It’s delightful to sample dishes, cocktails and desserts from local businesses as well as to get the opportunity to learn more about the many gifted chefs and entrepreneurs around us.
Harlem, like the South Bronx, has been reduced in recent years to conversations around gentrification, which is unfortunate. The women I spoke to at Harlem Eat Up, Spaulding included, think that a mix of old and new in Harlem can only be good.
After a few hours in the sun, taking in the sights and familiar faces of proud New Yorkers from last year, it was easy to see what they mean — change is often complicated, but it doesn’t have to be bad. This year it felt like growth had been good not just for Samuelsson and his restaurant, Red Rooster, but also for people who know, love and live in Harlem.
When I heard Elizabeth Acevedo read at last year’s inaugural Bronx Book Festival, I understood exactly why The Poet X was as important and astounding as the author herself. It wasn’t just an authentic narrative for authenticity’s sake, but a work of beauty particularly for women of color meant to inspire them to find their voices and paths. It took my breath away.
With The Fire on High was similar – a beautiful page-turner. I couldn’t wait to share with y’all that I got the assignment of a lifetime to write about it for the New York Times Book Review. Below is an excerpt, but if you read the whole thing, I’d love to hear your feedback — especially if you’ve read the book, which you should definitely get a copy of.
Xiomara is like the more subdued fictive kin of Emoni Santiago, the self-possessed heroine of Acevedo’s second novel, WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH (HarperTeen, 400 pp., $17.99; ages 13 and up). A talented aspiring chef and unapologetic teenage mother, Emoni is as stubbornly committed to following her dreams as Xiomara is, but she cares less about other people’s perceptions. Anchored by her baby girl, Emma, and her grandmother Gloria (whom she calls ‘Buela), Emoni is sure of everything except whom she can trust as she chases her dream of running her own kitchen.
The nomenclature theme nods to Emoni’s maturity and integrity, and her attention to detail. She knows her own name is a signifier of her Afro-Latinx identity; “Emma,” on the other hand, “is the kind of name that didn’t tell you too much before you met her, the way mine does,” Emoni tells us. “Because nobody ever met a white girl named Emoni, and as soon as they see my name on a résumé or college application they think they know exactly what kind of girl they getting.”
What a wrong assumption. “Information ain’t free, so my daughter’s name wasn’t going to tell anybody any information they didn’t earn.”