by The People’s Minister of Information JR
June 29 is one of the most exciting days for Black bookworms across the state of California. That is the date for the Leimert Park Book Fair, the only annual Black book fair in Cali. I attended this beautiful event two years ago and met boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard, who was promoting his book at an event at Eso Won Black bookstore, one of the founding sponsors of the Leimert Park Book Fair.
I also met a number of independent authors who were from all over the West Coast, who, like me, were there to expand their business network. If you are an author or just a literary enthusiast, this is the place you need to be. I talked to the founder of the Leimert Park Book Fair, so that you can get some insight into the West Coast’s prized Black book fair, in the legendary Leimert Park.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us how the Leimert Park Book Fair started? When?
Cynthia Exum: I founded the Leimert Park Village Book Fair in 2006 in partnership with the City of Los Angeles, County of Los Angeles, L.A. Department of Cultural Affairs and Eso Won Books, one of Los Angeles’ premier African American owned bookstores.
The book fair started from my desire to promote and encourage literacy, education and the love of reading in our community.
And I am proud that after six years the event gets bigger and better every year with the support we get from our sponsors, our community partners, our participants, our special invited celebrities and special guests and most importantly our community.
M.O.I. JR: What have some of the highlights been over the years?
Cynthia Exum: Our annual Leimert Park Village Book Fair has featured a stellar line up of past authors, celebrities and vendors – all encouraging reading, writing and literacy in the African American community. Past participants have included Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr., Emmy-nominated music director Rickey Minor of “American Idol” and band leader of the Tonight Show, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Douglas Blackmon, prominent literary figure Ishmael Reed, New York Times best-selling author Eric Dickey Jerome, Advertising Hall of Famer Tom Burrell, reality star NeNe Leakes of the Real Housewives of ATL, playwright and author Donald Welch, screenwriter Rob Edwards (“Princess and the Frog”), art enthusiasts and philanthropists Shirley and Bernard Kinsey, award-winning poet Ruth Forman, spoken word tour-de-force-Talaam Acey and actress and children’s author Kim Wayans – just to name a few.
M.O.I. JR: Why are book fairs important?
Cynthia Exum: Our book fair is important because it provides a venue where festival attendees can meet and greet their favorite authors up close and personal, and in all cases festival attendees get the opportunity to get their books signed. Our book fair is also important because it provides many talented artists – authors, poets, musicians etc. – a venue to showcase their works.
Illiteracy is almost a direct pathway to prison, criminal activity and/or unemployment. And the prison industrial complex houses a disproportionate number of African Americans, many of whom were left behind at the third grade and never caught up. This is a very unfortunate problem, but I think our event strives to be a part of the solution by promoting education, literacy and the love of reading in our community. We strive to educate, entertain and inspire!
M.O.I. JR: Who are some of the headliners who will be in attendance this year?
Cynthia Exum: Our growing 2013 lineup includes award-winning actress and author Victoria Rowell, television actor and author Eric LaSalle, mystery writer Gary Phillips, television personality and author Judge Mablean Ephraim, Freedom Riders and civil rights activists, Rev. James Lawson, former Councilmember Robert C. Farrell, and Dr. Robert and Helen Singleton.
M.O.I. JR: For those that don’t know, what kind of events does the Leimert Park Book Fair consist of?
Cynthia Exum: Festival components are
- five Literary Pavilions: Authors’ Tent, Publishers’ Row, Museum Row and Poets’ Salon
- Children’s Storytelling Stage featuring celebrity read alouds along with theatrical performances, educational exhibitors, and arts and crafts activities
- special tribute to the 1960s and America’s era of social change
- panel discussions, writing workshops, author signings, poetry recitals, film screenings – with special exhibits from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, National Civil Rights Museum and Peterson Automobile Museum
- gourmet food trucks, entertainment and fun for the entire family!
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell people a little bit of the Black history of Leimert Park?
Cynthia Exum: In the summer of 1965, simmering racial tensions among Los Angelenos exploded for a period of five days; this rebellion would become known as the Watts Riots. From the ashes of the riots rose a new sense of community, pride and empowerment beginning with the Civil Rights Movement that paved the way for the Black Arts Movement. Artists of all races and ethnicities, musicians, poets and entertainers would make Leimert Park a haven for freedom of expression.
In 1967, artists Alonzo and Dale Davis founded Brockman Gallery, and with this beginning, a new era of Leimert Park as an arts and cultural mecca for African Americans in Los Angeles dawned.
M.O.I. JR: How do people keep up with you?
Cynthia Exum: http://www.leimertparkbookfair.com/
The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every other Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at email@example.com.