written by Guest Blogger Sheila Lewis
On Sunday, September 18th, WNBA member volunteers greeted passersby at a well-placed booth (#251) in the heart of Brooklyn Book Festival at Borough Hall. The mood of BFF, as reflected in the smiling faces of book toting visitors, was cheerful and determined. As in Septembers past, there was too much to see and do; noisy construction added to the challenge of navigation. But once I relaxed into the mindset of “it’s all good,” I stopped worrying about what I was missing, and enjoyed talking with people who stopped by. As a Rockland County visitor said, “I wish I’d known about this and come before, so many eager eyed readers and writers are here…”
One independent press publisher echoed a common sentiment, “It was great to see and hear people face-to-face say how they like our books.” BFF’s mission is to bring books to the community, and as such, is a welcome platform for small publishers, not just the big ones.
Anne Kemper, long-time WNBA volunteer, commented on how great it was to see “so many people from various backgrounds, writers, teachers, connecting with our mission.” WNBA’s mission is reflected in its excellent events, author/publishing panels, and workshops, including those that target trends in publishing or have experts advise on new technologies, social media, or career paths.
Volunteers Laurel Stokes, Lei Zhong, and Elizabeth Chatsworth, noted a lot of interest in the upcoming October 6th National Reading Group Month Panel and Networking Event, November 9th The Power of Poetry in a Complex World, and how WNBA’s literary reach is both broad and attuned to local neighborhoods. Elizabeth, a new member and writer, nailed it, saying “It was a pleasure to meet so many enthusiastic book lovers…you could feel the camaraderie…at our booth. As we shared our passion for literature, the sense of community was delightful, and I left with an updated must-read list and a host of new friends.”
As longtime Membership Chair, Rachel Weiss-Feldman, summed up, “BBF perfects a way to get (visitors) directly interested in the literary community of NYC and the borough of Brooklyn. We meet a lot of people, they meet us. We spread the word about what we do, books we read and love, and we learn about other books and writing going on. If a visitor attends an event, reads our blog, or joins the chapter, it’s worth it.”
WNBA’s Brooklyn Book Festival’s Co-chair, Rachel Slaiman, added, “The festival gives small presses and independents a chance to show who they are and what they can offer, and allows them to attract very specific audiences that would make their brand noticeable.” Hannah Bennett, WNBA-NYC Chapter’s new President, concurred, saying “It was a great chance for us to tell people about the organization’s amazing history, including the fact that we’re about to mark our 100 year with a series of Centennial celebrations.”
Although thousands of people thronged the plaza, I was glad to run into some friends and send them to WNBA’s booth. They included Kate Gardner, a business coach and writer, who “lucked out” at several business panels (including one with WNBA’s Bridget Marmion, who heads her own PR company, Expert Nation), and Mindy Liss, a communications consultant and speechwriter, who was thrilled to attend a panel of women novelists. I found the line for Pete Hamill daunting, but then Salman Rushdie stood quietly nearby, and I waved Hi.
As Weiss-Feldman pointed out, attendees don’t always sign right up, but “we send follow up emails” to the 80 or so people who signed the contact list. The exposure and return makes BBF worthwhile, and we keep coming back.
Many of the too-numerous to mention literary, educational, and public-minded small companies and non-profits (for a list, check the BBF Official Guide), also returned.
Still, some vendors grumbled. One children’s author complained of her booth’s peripheral placement. Events, and the front steps leading to Borough Hall, were crowded. Food trucks were missing, a waffle truck and a pizza place were the nearest eateries. Signs were enigmatic, restrooms hard to find. But people managed, as New Yorkers do, to go with the steamy flow of humanity and stream of excited discovery, before heading home on foot, by car or to the maze of subways, shopping bags brimming with precious wonders. Next year we’ll be back.
Sheila Lewis is a writer, editor, and recent co-author of My Calm Place: Yoga, Mindfulness & Meditation Strategies for Children (pesipublishing.com), with 50 exercises that match her passion for meditation with effective learning techniques. She teaches classes and workshops at the JCC and citywide. She has been a WNBA member since 2007. firstname.lastname@example.org.