The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association is on strong financial footing, and its trade show had more volunteers and attendees than last year, as well as greater diversity of authors and attendees. And new stores opening in its region. So why the somewhat subdued tone at the Tacoma-based event held at the Hotel Murano, Sept. 28–30?
.In the view of many attendees, people are struggling to make sense of the current administration and as the trade show launched, a very contentious week of Supreme Court hearings had barely ended. Authors, publishers, and booksellers alike said the attendees’ restraint masked their rage.
Both Claire McElroy-Chesson, events coordinator for Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., and Christine Foye of Simon Schuster, said they kept smiles on their faces to hide their anger. SS was offering books like Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly and Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister. The two women said they–as well as readers– look to books for clarity, diversity, and also escape. Foye said there is huge demand “for books that examine the sexes and politics and power in America, and how women and men are affected, now more than ever.”
Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Shout (Penguin Young Readers)—a prescient follow up to Speak, published 20 years ago—instructed her rapt audience at Sunday’s Book Author Breakfast, “Don’t get depressed. Just lean in and change our world.”
Booksellers like Cynthia Claridge of Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, Ore., and Cedar Goslin of Herringbone Books in nearby Redmond, said readers on both sides of the political aisle are seeking answers to the overarching question, “What the heck is going on in our country today?” Claridge said. (Claridge’s brother, Brad Smith, died last May of prostate cancer. A beloved bookseller and active PNBA board member, he was remembered fondly at the annual membership meeting; Claridge received needed community support all weekend, she said.)
“Own voices” writing is in demand by readers and in the offing by kids’, middle grade, YA, and adult writers. Authors are representing, for example, people of color, LGBTQ+, immigrants, disabled people, those suffering addiction or mental illness, and those on the autism spectrum. Importantly, noted many of the more than 200 attendees, they’re including characters in each “category” who are just folks.
In Stephen Wallenfels’ Deadfall (Hyperion), one character is coming out over the course of this cross-over thriller. “I wanted to write a book where a character is coming out but it doesn’t define him; it’s just a personality piece,” he said.
Chris Satterlund, Scholastic’s children’s book rep, said inclusive books “are being done better and better” (such as Bill Konigsberg’s The Music of What Happens). “You’re not just seeing a brown person or a gay person just so they’re there.” Rather, she said, “Can we just have a gay kid who just wants to get on the basketball team? Yes. And I think that’s where we’re going” in publishing.
“I think we’re on the path to actually having diversity in books,” added Sarah Hutton of Village Books. As always, there’s work to be done.
As reflected in a PNBA first (and possibly for any regional trade show, according to Brian Juenemann, association executive director), more than 30 people attended “Reading While Disabled,” convened by Annie Carl, owner of the Neverending Bookshop in Edmonds, Wash. Carl suffers from such a rare disease she’s in medical textbooks and is a cancer survivor. At a diversity panel last year, she spoke up, wondering where she could find herself in books. Encouraged by Sam Kaas, association education chair, she created a panel of three who noted key books like Kate Ristau’s Clockbreakers (Hopewell Books); ways to better promote such publications; and how best to make stores “not just accessible, but comfortable.”
PNBA’s trade show director, Greg Holmes, who began as a volunteer in 1989, said the association, whose region includes western and central Canada, as well as Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Oregon, has worked very hard and deliberately to become increasingly diverse, even in a region that’s rather white. “I think the diversity we got this year was noticed, and I think it was appreciated,” he said.
Yuyi Morales’ picture book Dreamers (Neal Porter Books), which she also beautifully illustrated in various mediums, tells of immigration and migration, motherhood, new beginnings, struggle. A featured “Dinner at the Kids’ Table” author, Morales now lives in her native Mexico. She said, “There is a place for every one of us in books. We need to give voice to those we haven’t heard yet. We’re all part of this weaving, of telling these stories.”