by The Minister of Information JR

A Stax Records dancer performs at the 2013 Leimert Park Village Book Fair. – Photo: JR Valrey, Block Report
A Stax Records dancer performs at the 2013 Leimert Park Village Book Fair. – Photo: JR Valrey, Block Report

The Leimert Park Village Book Fair is the one annual literary event in California that I try to make it to every year. This event is held in the well preserved and nationally known Los Angeles Black artistic and cultural neighborhood Leimert Park, which was once home to Marvin Gaye and Richard Pryor and is still home to legendary filmmaker and owner of the Kaos Network Ben Caldwell and the Black bookstore Eso Won Books.

It is the only book fair that I know of in California that caters specifically to Black authors and Black audiences from all literary genres.

Cynthia Exum and her crew have been organizing the Leimert Park Village Book Fair for a decade, which is no small feat. So I sat down with her to discuss this monumental accomplishment.

M.O.I. JR: How does it feel to present the 10th Annual Leimert Park Village Book Fair?

Cynthia Exum: I’m excited that we’re TURNING 10! meaning the celebration of our 10th anniversary for the love of reading and books. I’m delighted that the Leimert Park Village Book Fair (LPVBF) has stood the test of time and was listed No. 4 among the best book fairs in the country and No. 3 among “LA’s 5 Best Annual Book Festivals.”

It’s a testament to the hard work and support of a community. It takes a village to not only raise a child, but it also takes a village to educate a child for a better tomorrow.

The LPVBF is produced by Exum and Associates in collaboration with the City of Los Angeles, County of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and Capri Capital Partners of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw. Philanthropists and art historians Dr. Bernard W. and Shirley Kinsey serve as the book fair’s chairpersons, leading the fund-raising efforts and increasing the book fair’s brand awareness in the corporate community.

It takes a village to not only raise a child, but it also takes a village to educate a child for a better tomorrow.

I’m really thankful to our sponsors and community partners. With the backing of supporters, I built a high-quality cultural event, and the people came!

M.O.I. JR: How would you compare the Leimert Park Village Book Fair to other book fairs in California?

Cynthia Exum: LPVBF has become a much-anticipated cultural tradition in our community. It’s held in the heart of Leimert Park, which is considered the center of the African American arts and intellectual scene in LA, much like Harlem in New York.

It’s also one of the largest book fairs, highlighting the work of African American authors and honoring the Black experience. This year, we’re expecting to draw more than 10,000 people with more than 150 authors, writers, storytellers, poets, spoken word performers, vendors and exhibitors.

It has been a real treat for me to bring some of our favorite authors and celebrities to the community and provide them an opportunity to promote their newest work as well as meet some of their fans up close and personal.

In the past nine years, LPVBF has had an incredible lineup of authors, poets, celebrity authors, speakers and artists, including Pulitzer Prize winners Isabel Wilkerson and Douglas A. Blackmon; prominent literary figure Ishmael Reed; New York Times best seller Eric Jerome Dickey; author Tananarive Due and novelist-screenwriter Steve Barnes; novelist-screenwriter-producer Attica Locke; author Pamela Samuels Young; poet-activist Nikki Giovanni and poet-playwright Sonia Sanchez; author and Essence magazine Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Susan L. Taylor; economist and political commentator Julianne Malveaux; spoken word tour-de-force Talaam Acey, award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay, world-renowned visual artists Charles Bibbs, Synthia Saint James and Varnette P. Honeywood – just to name a few.

It’s one of the largest book fairs, highlighting the work of African American authors and honoring the Black experience.

Names from the entertainment world – that is, actors-turned-authors – include Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr.; along with award-winning actors Victoria Rowell (“The Young and the Restless”); Hill Harper (“CSI: NY”); Todd Bridges (“Diff’rent Strokes”); Isaiah Washington (“Grey’s Anatomy”); Emmy-nominated music director Rickey Minor (“American Idol” and band leader of the “Tonight Show”); reality star NeNe Leakes (“Real Housewives of Atlanta”); writer and reality star Demetria Lucas D’Oyley (“Blood, Sweat & Heels”); playwright/author Donald Welch; and actress-children’s author Kim Wayans – just to name a few

M.O.I. JR: What will happen at the 10th Annual Leimert Park Village Book Fair? What authors will headline it?

Cynthia Exum: We are really excited about the lineup of authors this year. Merging the two worlds of literature and entertainment, the book fair will present a lineup of headliners, crowd pleasers and fan favorites who routinely top best sellers lists of book clubs around the country.

Right now, I’m not ready to announce anything just yet, but I can say that one of our headliners’ best-selling books was made into a major motion picture in 2014, starring actress Sharon Leal. That’s a big hint! The book fair’s tribute to reading and literature will be punctuated by music, laughter, intellectual engagement and celebrity authors signing their impressive works of literature.

The book fair’s tribute to reading and literature will be punctuated by music, laughter, intellectual engagement and celebrity authors signing their impressive works of literature.

M.O.I. JR: How did you develop your passion for literature?

Cynthia Exum: I developed a passion for literature through my late grandmother, who lived to be 91 years old. In fact, the impetus for the start of the book fair began as a tribute to my grandmother who read the Bible daily and kept stacks of National Geographic magazines around the house.

When she passed away, I wanted to give back to the community and do something in her memory that would make a difference. Also, I used to send books to my late sister while she was serving time at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). She really appreciated that gesture because books gave her a lifeline to the outside world.

When I was younger, having books in the home inspired a love of reading for me. As a child, by flipping the pages of a book, I could go anywhere in the world, and dream the dreams of the person I wanted to be.

M.O.I. JR: Why is it important for us to promote literacy in our communities?

Cynthia Exum: There’s this crazy impression that Black people don’t read. That’s simply not true, and I want to dispel that notion altogether.

The book fair has hosted some of the brightest minds in literature and poetry, like Pulitzer Prize winning authors Isabel Wilkerson and Douglas A. Blackmon, literary giant Ishmael Reed, New York Times best-selling author Eric Jerome Dickey as well as poets Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sonchez. I think it’s critical to promote literacy in the African American community by showcasing prominent authors and exposing our people to this level of talent, who are contributing to the literary world.

M.O.I. JR: How can people stay online with you?

Cynthia Exum: Please visit our website, www.LeimertParkBookFair.com, for the latest announcements, coming in July!

Get social with the Leimert Park Village Book Fair:

Want to go?

The Leimert Park Village Book Fair will be held Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., in the outdoor promenade of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw mall (BHC), located at 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in LA. The event is free and open to the public.

The Leimert Park Village Book Fair will feature iconoclast interviews, book signings, workshops, panel discussions, poetry readings, stage performances, musical entertainment and a variety of activities for the whole family.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’“ and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2“ and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe“ and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

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