Thousands of book lovers flocked to the 10th Annual Leimert Park Village Book Fair at the outdoor promenade of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza on Aug. 20 in Los Angeles to experience an exciting event that featured more than 150 authors, writers, storytellers, poets, spoken word performers, vendors and exhibitors.
Executive Director and Festival producer Cynthia E. Exum was joined on stage with her co-chairs, art collectors Bernard and Shirley Kinsey and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas.
“I’m honored and humbled to be able to bring this important literary event to the community,” said Exum, whose book fair was voted as one of “Los Angeles’ Best Annual Book Festivals.”
“Our mission has been to promote and encourage literacy and education and a love of reading to the community and for the past decade, I believe we’ve been successful.”
“Over the course of a decade, the Leimert Park Village Book Fair has enlightened and empowered African American culture and provided a hub for local literacy,” said Ridley-Thomas, a long-time supporter.
President Betty Blackman and Billie Frierson of the California Librarians Black Caucus presented the Joyce Madkins Sumbi Emerging Leaders Awards Certificates to librarians Sharon Johnson, Sonja Hannah, Stephanie Sterling, Rose Mitchell and Jene Brown. The award was given for Joyce Sumbi’s trailblazing work as a librarian and as a founding member of the Leimert Park Book Fair. Exum also received the CLBC Certificate of Excellence for her leadership, determination and creativity for bringing books authors and exhibitors from around the nation for the event.
Dozens of local and national authors greeted their fans on the Plaza Promenade where the genre of books ranged from autobiography and inspiration to mystery, crime and science fiction.
Filmmaker and author Mattie Rich (“Straight Out of Brooklyn” and “The Inkwell”) interviewed legendary musician Charles Wright, (“Express Yourself”) whose autobiography, the gripping “Up From Where We Come,” chronicled the early part of his life from growing up in Jim Crow Mississippi to his early rise in the music business.
“It took me 40 years to write this book,” confessed Wright, founder of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, whose iconic song, “Express Yourself,” has been sampled in 80 television commercials and 30 movies.
“Every time I start reading the book, I start crying,” said Wright, whose book depicts the back breaking poverty experienced by his family.
“Slavery was supposed to end in 1860, but in 1960, there was still a form of slavery called sharecropping,” recalled Wright, who said his father sharecropped cotton for a cruel boss named Mr. Miles. “No matter how much cotton my father picked for Mr. Miles, my father was never able to dig himself out of the (financial) hole,” Wright sadly recalled.
Wright, a musician for 60 years, also delivered his opinion on the state of Black America. “The problem is we can’t get together because we don’t know where we came from. Until we get together, we are going nowhere. No one is coming to save us but us,” he said frankly. “And I still want my 40 acres and a mule.”
“Where are you going to put the mule?” Rich jokingly quipped.
Rich discussed his gripping novel that centers on the real-life story of a little-known figure in the Civil Rights movement – a white social worker by the name of Beverly Luther who organized marches for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rich has also secured the movie rights to the book for a film adaptation. “The Civil Rights Movement was not just an African American movement. All races participated in it,” Rich pointed out, who added that he read about Luther several years ago.
Actress Meagan Good and her husband DeVon Franklin discussed their best-selling book titled “The Wait,” about their courtship and love affair and their journey of practicing celibacy before marriage.
Both said their Christian faith played a large part in their decision to remain celibate during their courtship, adding that their book was written to help other couples who are intent on remaining celibate before marriage.
“The waiting time is a time of preparation, a time to get your character and integrity together,” said Franklin, who added that since he and Good tied the knot, “We are like two teenagers. Everyday has been an adventure.”
Participating on the “Mysteries R Us” panel were science fiction writers Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due, suspense writer and attorney Pamela Samuels Young and mystery writer Gary Phillips.
Husband and wife and writing duo Barnes and Due have been pioneers in writing Black-themed science fiction, fantasy and horror in the literary world.
“I wanted to see people who looked like me represented in science fiction,” said Barnes, whose latest book is “The Seascape Tattoo.”
Due, an award-winning novelist and screenwriter who teaches creative writing at UCLA, said that her short story collection “Ghost Summer” had just been optioned by a major cable network.
“Steven and I are currently writing a television pilot. It’s an honor to write about people who look like us being represented on the silver screen,” said Due, who said that Hollywood has recently taken an interest in Black-themed science fiction and horror. “It’s exciting to be part of the wave.”
“My book, ‘Anybody’s Daughter,’ is about a child who is pulled into the world of child sex trafficking,” said Young, whose page-turning tale captured the NAACP Image Award for Fiction. “Parents, be sure you know who your kids are talking to online,” she urged.
Author Gary Phillips’ new book, titled “Only the Wicked,” part of his Alvin Monk series, said “the book starts with an old negro baseball player who journeys back to the south for an old civil rights murder case.” Phillips is also the author of “The Cocaine Chronicles,” now in its second printing.
Grammy Award-winning recording artist Bobby Brown talked about his new biography, “Every Little Step,” which chronicles his life and the tragic deaths of his former wife, singer Whitney Houston and his daughter, Bobbie Christina.
An emotional Brown said that he was taking the tragic losses “one step at a time.”
The recording artist, who is also a celebrated cook, lightened the mood by whipping up a tasty dish of barbecue salmon with grilled peppers and onions and brown rice on the cooking stage using his own seasonings, Bobby’s original Barbecue Sauce, Seasoning Salt and Boston Blend.
“I cook because I Iike good food,” said Brown, who added that he was honored to attend the 10th Annual Leimert Park Book Fair. ”Today is just a great day. The best thing we can invest in is books,” said Brown. “It’s a real privilege to be here.”
Also manning the cooking stage was Miss Robbie of OWN’s “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” who cooked and signed “Sweetie Pie’s Cookbook: Soulful Southern Recipes, from My Family to Yours” and celebrity Chef Rome Brown, who signed his new cookbook, “Eat Like a Celebrity: Southern Cuisine With a Gourmet Twist.” Chefs Jaime Martin Del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu of Mexicano Restaurant at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza also brought an authentic taste of Mexican fare to the book fair’s culinary stage.
Celebrated author, and screenwriter Zane, author of 38 novels and known for her spicy, erotic fiction and the publisher of Strebor Books International, was interviewed by Our Weekly editor Julianna Norwood.
Her latest book, “Vengeance,” is about a man leading a triple life. “It’s the most complex character I’ve ever written,” said Zane, who also has several TV shows.
Panel discussions included “Are We Better Off Today? The issue of Race, Obama and the African American Community” which was moderated by KJLH host Dominique DiPrima and featured author Dr. Julianne Malveaux (“Are We Better Off?”) April Ryan (“The Presidency in Black and White”) and Erin Aubrey (“I Heart Obama.”)
“The Making of an Admired Man,” which discussed positive role models in the Black community, featured 100 Black Men President Brent Burton, FAMLI Founder Torrence Brannon Reese, Best Start Communites First 5 LA Rafael Gonzalez director foster Care Resources Group Ardephia Bowen and moderator Chris L. Hickey Sr, founder of the Admired Man Leadership Institute.
Drawing large crowds was another riveting panel discussion, “Police Brutality and Race: How Can We Make a Difference?” with panelists attorney and author Eric Broyles, retired LAPD officer Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey, Civil Rights Attorney Nana Gyamfi, retired New York Policeman Corey Pegus, LMU Visiting Assistant Dr. Amina Humphrey and Activist and Author Thandiszwe Chimurenga.
The topic of the recent brutal shootings of Black Americans at the hands of police elicited a lively and heated discussion between panelists and the audience which was taped by cable station PBS.
“I was a cop for 21 years,” said Pegus. “There is a major communication gap between the black community and police. Until we see cops walking out of the precinct in handcuffs, being fired and worrying about how they are going to pay their mortgage, nothing will change.”
“We need to change the police officer’s Bill of Rights, which is their shelter when they do bad things,” said Dorsey. “If something happens between you and police, you need to leave a paper trail and document. Be engaged, vote. Put people in power who respect your lives.”
Also on hand were former NBA player A.C. Green (LA Lakers) and journeyman NBA/CBA player Juaquin “Hawk” Hawkins (Houston Rockets), who is the author of “Stroke of Grace” which offer words of inspiration for both on and off the court.
Motivational speaker Ramsey Jay Jr., author of “Empower Dreamers to Become Achievers,” a Wall Street-trained, Ivy League-educated finance professional; delivered the closing message and encouraged all people to live their best lives without fear and limitations.
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.