1st Annual BIPOC Book Fest Hits Houston to Celebrate Writers of Color
Covering issues affecting underrepresented communities inspired them to organize the city’s first-ever BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) book festival.
Clay said the idea started when she shared with Garley that she had always dreamed of opening her own bookstore, featuring black and brown writers. Garley then suggested turning the concept into a festival and then recruited Lewis to join them. All three met while working for the Houston Chronicle. Now Clay is the publisher of their HouWeAre newsletter, Garley is the publisher of Eater Houston, and Lewis is a freelance writer working on his first book.
“When we were kids, we rarely saw characters that looked like us,” Clay said. “One of the most surprising things is that characters of color aren’t that common, like white becomes the default and you don’t even recognize it. Even when the characters weren’t described, I would imagine them in my head as being white. I realized that there was a whole other world here and I needed to expand my imagination.
“Representation in the media is so important. As a young child, I remember those first looks at everything you read. It shaped who you are as an individual. adulthood I’ve found authors more representative of my life experience,” Lewis said. “With this festival, I hope children will come in, see a book that is truly like them and reflect their own experience, and find hope and light in it.”
According to a New York Times analysis of 7,000 books between 1950 and 2018, 95% were written by white authors. A survey of approximately 3,300 books conducted by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center in 2020 showed that children’s books were also geared toward white audiences.
“We’re providing a space where we can have these open conversations about these very topics — banned books, critical race theory — that continue to shine a light on the news and we’re not going to censor the conversation,” said Lewis. It’s going to be open and honest, because it’s crucial and it’s necessary.”
.@BIPOCBookFestThe website of would have been blocked by @KatyISD. This was sent to us by a student, who could not access our website from school. We have been filtered, according to the “restricted” list alert.
I guess we are doing something right! pic.twitter.com/MputXK3UGz
— BIPOC Book Festival (@BIPOCBookFest) April 19, 2022
On Tuesday morning, organizers posted on Twitter that Katy ISD had blocked student access to their event website. The district made headlines last winter for its controversial bans on books featuring diverse and LGBTQ+ characters. ABC13 asked the officials about it and their spokesperson, Maria Corrales DiPetta, replied:
“Since this was a brand new website, it had not gone through the review process by the District’s website filtering system. The District has manually reviewed the website and it is currently unlocked and available to Katy ISD students and staff.”
Meanwhile, Clay and Lewis said they are focused on making the festival’s inaugural year a success. They hope to make it an annual event and maybe even expand to pop-ups in other cities one day.
“More conversations about diversity in the literary space are needed, not just in Houston, but across the country. But I think Houston is such a great place to start because Houston really feels like America,” said Lewis said.
The two-day event will take place this weekend. Saturday’s event at the Buffalo Soldiers Museum will focus on adult and teen readers. Admission is $10. Sunday’s free Little BIPOC Book Fest will be for kids in Smither Park.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the BIPOC Book Festivals website.
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