Wednesday, July 12, 2017

ALA Annual Conference, Chicago, IL

It's been the requisite two weeks since my time at the American Library Association annual meeting which was held at the end of June in Chicago. This was the 8th time I've attended an ALA conference and, while most of the time I spent in meetings doing very librarian-ish things and spending a lot of time doing my day job, I had plenty of time and was fortunate enough to be all booky and crap. In retrospect, I should have called my blog "All Booky and Crap" but hindsight is 20/20.

Anyway, as often happens when I travel from NYC to Chicago, my flight was delayed in a very annoying way. And by that I mean the airline didn't know how long or why the flight was delayed so we boarded and then had to deplane and then plane (?) again in a matter of an hour. Then we ended up taking off three hours after our scheduled time. I have no reason for sharing that part of this trip other than that I'm still kinda annoyed by it. I ended up making it on time for my afternoon meeting, followed by a drink and some lunch with a friend which was followed by the real reason I'm writing about this in here...BOOKS!

That evening, the Cultural Communities Fund, a branch of the American Library Association was holding a fundraiser at the brand spanking new American Writers Museum and Nikki Giovanni was the guest of honor. She did a reading and was signing advanced copies of her forthcoming book entitled, "A Good Cry: What We Learn from Tears and Laughter" coming from HarperCollins in October. The reading was in addition to allowing attendees to wander the museum after hours. They had me at "wander the museum after hours." And free drinks.

Owing to the late hour, my absolutely non-stop and frantic travel/meetings/sleepless day, I found the museum overwhelming and ended up doing more socializing than spending time investigating the space. I did notice that many of the exhibits felt very modern and hands on which was something I, perhaps oddly, hadn't really expected. Here's a quick video I took of one of the main exhibits hands-ony-ness.

I do enjoy that they made many of the exhibits so interactive, otherwise it might have been a very passive experience. To wit: there is a table of typewriters with which visitors are encouraged to type messages or poems that they can then hang on the wall of museum. I typed one of my haiku.

Stylistically, the museum is impressive. I will visit again on a return visit to Chicago.

The Nikki Giovanni reading was incredible. I am familiar with her work, though I confess it is in a broader sense than most of the attendees at the event. There were some die hard fans in attendance. She gave impassioned readings and had warmness about her. She invited a former student to read some of his work and they also did a joint reading that involved Giovanni singing along while her student read from one of her pieces. There was a signing after the reading and it was during this that I made a new friend with whom I had a great conversation and ended up seeing throughout the rest of the conference. That experience reminded me of what conferences like this are all about...connections. And when it is a connection through books...all the better!

The next morning, I was up and out the door by 7am and made my way to the Chicago Hilton for the Public Library Association breakfast, the guest of honor of which was former adviser to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett. It was inspiring to hear her speak about the importance of public service and leadership. I just today found out that she is working on a book with Viking Press which imma gonna read.

That entire second day of the conference I spent attending library profession programs and running into old friends. In the interest of keeping this entry germane to books, I'll tell you about a remarkable panel discussion I attended called "Growing Readership Through Diversity" and it was a presentation given by a mixture of publishing industry professionals and librarians that spoke to the need for diversity in reading and in publishing. I was struck by an editor from Soho Press, Juliet Grames, who gave an impressive, informative, and very true presentation about the myriad reasons why diversity is so lacking in publishing today. From a librarian's standpoint, I understand the lack of diversity in what is published; I see it everyday in the books that are released every year and what makes the bestselling lists. It was fascinating to get an "insider" glance into what goes on in the acquisitions, editing, even hiring practices at the publishing house levels. I left the presentation inspired to find out what I could do to help that along. It is an ongoing process.

Later that evening, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a special event held by Penguin Random House at the Chicago Athletic Association. It was billed as a mix and mingle/cocktail party/discussion with four authors, two of whom were to receive the Carnegie medal later in the evening, Colson Whitehead and Matthew Desmond. The space was the room at the Chicago Athletic Association known as "the Tank" which is a converted swimming pool-cum-event space. And there I was of an evening, sipping on a cocktail, watching the author of The Underground Railroad walking around and socializing like just a normal person and not the author of my favorite book of 2016. For the author discussion portion of the evening, due to the former swimming pool area we were in (and MAYBE the two cocktails I indulged in) I couldn't really hear the speakers too clearly. Still, it was a great experience to be in the presence of authors of distinction and who I admire.

Following this event was the formal awards ceremony for the Carnegie medals for excellence in non-fiction and fiction and I got to hear speeches from the featured speaker, Sara Paretsky (whose work I am shamefully unfamiliar with) as well as Colson Whitehead, winner of the fiction prize for The Underground Railroad and Matthew Desmond, winner of the non-fiction prize for Evicted.  This was my first awards ceremony and, aside from the lovely desserts they provided after the speeches, it was exactly as I expected. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to hear great speeches by great authors.

Throughout the conference, I got the chance to gather a small collection of galleys to read. I emphasize small, because I had to temper my usual frenzy of free books in recent times. So the photo below is what I'd call "small" though it is still a nice haul.

It is probably too small to see in the photo but on the right hand side is a version of the Banned Books Week logo that ALA is using this year, of which I am a big fan.

All in all it was a great conference. I was library werking for most of it, hence my reduced time doing booky things. But when it comes to books, I will always, always take what I can get! Next up is Readercon! 


  1. Love your poem!

    Anne Marie Clarke

    1. Thanks! You can find it in Newtown Literary Issue #8!