Independent booksellers gathered at BookExpo 2017 at New York City’s Javits Convention Center on Wednesday, May 31, for the 17th annual Celebration of Bookselling and Author Awards Lunch, where American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher spoke about the resurgence of indie booksellers.
“We came together for the first time to do this event 17 years ago, at a time when many in this industry were writing obituaries for independent booksellers. But your work over the years — infused with the extraordinary spirit that envelops this event every year — has written a dramatically different story for independent bookselling in the United States,” Teicher said. “As was reported yesterday by the Associated Press, the current state of independent bookselling in the United States is strong. Not without challenges, for sure, but we continue to be characterized by growth, by vitality, an increased number of indie bookstores across the country, positive sales, and, as you can see in this room, a whole new generation of booksellers entering our ranks.”
In addition to its many initiatives promoting the health of independent bookstores, defending the First Amendment and the right to free expression has been one of ABA’s most important core values. To that end, ABA has created an award to recognize the extraordinary efforts made by individuals to protect those rights of booksellers and their customers.
“We have named this new award after Joyce Meskis of Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store because Joyce’s commitment and leadership has proven time and time again that taking on and winning First Amendment battles has been critically important,” said Teicher. The inaugural award recipient is Michael Bamberger, the general counsel of Media Coalition, which defends the First Amendment rights of businesses that produce and distribute books, magazines, movies, videos, recordings, and video games.
Teicher then welcomed to the stage Jim Milliot, editorial director for Publishers Weekly, who presented the magazine’s annual Bookstore of the Year and Sales Rep of the Year awards. Collette Morgan, owner of Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, Minnesota, accepted the Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year Award, and Anne DeCourcey of HarperCollins accepted the Sales Rep of the Year Award.
Teicher also announced that this year author James Patterson is again offering his Holiday Bonus Program, which awards monetary grants to individual booksellers from independent bookstores.
Because of the overwhelming response to Patterson’s Holiday Bonus Program over the past two years, “James Patterson has announced that he’s going to increase the donation amount for 2017 by $100,000, so he will be giving out $350,000 to booksellers,” said Teicher.
In a statement, Patterson said, “It’s been incredible to see how these bonuses have positively impacted the lives of booksellers and their families, and I hope they will make even more of a difference this holiday season.”
ABA Board member Jonathon Welch of Talking Leaves Books in Buffalo, New York, then took the stage to present the 2017 Indies Choice Book Awards and the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards in honor of the authors and illustrators of notable books that reflect the spirit of independent bookstores nationwide.
“Our confidence as a bookselling community and our pride as independents have never been stronger, and our enthusiasm and conviction as booksellers has captured the attention of consumers, publishers, and media alike,” said Welch. “The focus on our well-earned market share in the eyes of the industry continues to be sharpened, and today, more than ever, we have a place at the table that cannot be denied.”
The winners and honor books in all categories, with the exceptions of Indie Champion and Picture Book Hall of Fame, were chosen from titles appearing on the Indie Next Lists in 2016, with additional titles for the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards nominated by bookseller members of the ABC Children’s Group at ABA. The E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards recognize books that reflect the themes, language, and universal appeal embodied by E.B. White’s children’s books.
Adult Fiction Indies Choice Awards
In a video message, Colson Whitehead accepted the Indies Choice Award for Adult Fiction Book of the Year for his novel The Underground Railroad: A Novel (Doubleday). Whitehead told booksellers he couldn’t be at the celebration to thank them for his award because he was in Australia appearing at a book festival.
“You guys have been so supportive over the last 18 years, you lovely booksellers and the sales force at Penguin Random House,” said Whitehead. “So thanks a lot and thanks for being with me from the very beginning, from The Intuitionist (Anchor Books).”
When that book came out in 1998 to the great enthusiasm of booksellers, Whitehead said, Alison Rich at Doubleday recommended that he extend his book tour to include a reading at A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco, and, since he used to live in the city, Rich suggested Whitehead stay with friends to save money.
“So I went out and I took a cab and a bus to all my events and radio stuff, and at night I stayed at my friend Kira’s house. Kira was a dominatrix, so her guest room was her dungeon, her place of business, and so I slept there amidst the chains and paddles and saw horses of her trade,” said Whitehead. Drawing a laugh from the crowd, he continued, “And that was my first introduction to a book tour, which really is sort of like being in a dungeon, enlivened only by hanging out with nice folks like you. So thanks again… It’s been really touching how people have responded to this new book, so I guess I’ll get back to work and write another one.”
Five Adult Fiction Honor Books were also recognized at the ceremony: A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel by Amor Towles (Viking), who was present at the event; Britt-Marie Was Here: A Novel by Fredrik Backman (Atria Books); Commonwealth: A Novel by Ann Patchett (Harper); Darktown: A Novel by Thomas Mullen (Atria/37 INK); and LaRose: A Novel by Louise Erdrich (Harper).
Adult Nonfiction Indies Choice Awards
Booksellers selected The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben (Greystone Books) as the Indies Choice Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year.
German author Wohlleben, who shared his thanks in a video, said he was surprised by the success of his book in North America. “The key was the independent bookstores, and I’m so thankful for your wonderful work to bring this book to all the readers because now everyone can take part in the guided tours through my forest and can discover the hidden life of trees.”
The Adult Nonfiction Honor Books recognized at the Celebration of Bookselling Lunch were: Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (Spiegel & Grau); Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard (Doubleday); The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel (Viking), who was present at the ceremony; The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams (Sarah Crichton Books); and Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South by Beth Macy (Little, Brown & Company).
Adult Debut Indies Choice Awards
Yaa Gyasi, whose Homegoing: A Novel (Knopf) was named the Indies Choice Adult Debut Book of the Year, accepted her award at the celebration. “Thank you to all of the independent booksellers who have so enthusiastically thrown themselves behind this book,” she said. “This year, I’ve gotten to see firsthand just how incredibly important independent bookstores are in getting the word out about good, new books. For a debut novelist, this groundswell effect couldn’t be more essential.”
When Gyasi was growing up, her Alabama hometown lacked an independent bookstore, but later on, at Prairie Lights Bookstore, she came to realize that “independent bookstores can act as a kind of sanctuary for the soul,” Gyasi said. “My soul certainly could have used a sanctuary when I was 15, but I’m glad it’s had so many since.”
The five Adult Honor Books honored at the ceremony were: Be Frank With Me: A Novel by Julia Claiborne Johnson (William Morrow); Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (Knopf); The Atomic Weight of Love: A Novel by Elizabeth J. Church (Algonquin Books); The Girls: A Novel by Emma Cline (Random House); and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (Random House).
Young Adult Indies Choice Awards
Ruta Sepetys was present at the Celebration Lunch to accept the Indies Choice Young Adult Book of the Year Award for her bestselling novel Salt to the Sea (Philomel Books). Sepetys’ father, a Lithuanian refugee, spent nine years in refugee camps before being allowed into the United States, she said, so the narrative of a refugee has always interested her and ultimately inspired her to write her book.
“I had no way of knowing that when the book came out that we would be amidst a refugee crisis,” Sepetys said. “As the daughter of a refugee, this was always on my mind, but I cannot do this without you. I sincerely doubt that teen readers come running into your store saying, ‘Quick! Get me a book about refugees from East Prussia on a ship that’s torpedoed by the Soviets!’”
Septeys then quoted Pope Francis, who, in addressing the refugee crisis, said, “We need to see their faces, and we need to hear their stories.” We see these refugees’ faces, Sepetys said, through characters and stories in books.
“We walk beside them for 300 pages feeling their fear and, suddenly, a statistic becomes a human being, and it is in that moment of connection that our heart hopefully opens and we feel called to do something,” said Sepetys. “So in that way, you are not just booksellers, you are lamplighters of hope and empathy and change. History divided us, but through reading these difficult stories, we’re united in study and remembrance and that is the power of books. So on behalf of those who struggled and those who are struggling, progress is possible. Compassion has no borders. Thank you so much for this honor. I am so grateful.”
Five Young Adult Honor Books were also recognized: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte Press); The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (Crown Books for Young Readers); Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers); Kids of Appetite by David Arnold (Viking Books for Young Readers); and The Reader by Traci Chee (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers).
E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Awards
Carson Ellis, author of DU IZ TAK? (Candlewick), took home the E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Award. Speaking via video from her home studio in Portland, Oregon, Carson told booksellers she was very grateful to receive the award and wished she could be at the Celebration Lunch to accept it in person.
“I wanted to make sure and say thank you and to let everybody there know how grateful I am,” said Ellis. “This award means so much to me, independent bookstores mean so much to me, and independent booksellers mean the world to me. As an author and an illustrator, as a reader, certainly as a mother, you guys make my world go round. So thank you, thank you so much. I am overjoyed.”
Five E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Honor Books were also recognized at the ceremony: School’s First Day of School, written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson (Roaring Brook Press); Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis, written by Jabari Asim and illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Nancy Paulsen Books); There’s a Bear on My Chair, written and illustrated by Ross Collins (Nosy Crow); Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, written by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers); and When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Julie Morstad (Roaring Brook Press). Robinson, Hood, and Fogliano, who were at the celebration, thanked booksellers for their support.
In her remarks, Hood talked about how Ada’s Violin, a true story about the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, changed her world and the way she thinks. Hood and Simon & Schuster will be sending a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book to the Recycled Orchestra to help change its members’ lives, she said, by giving them the ability to build a music school and homes. “Thank you to all the booksellers for all you do, which is help spread the word about these amazing kids, and for all you do to change a life one book at a time,” said Hood.
E.B. White Read-Aloud Middle Reader Awards
Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Algonquin Young Readers) won this year’s E.B. White Read-Aloud Middle Reader Award.
In a video from her office in Minnesota, Barnhill shared her love for independent bookstores and her appreciation for the award. “Because of the spirit of E.B. White and because I am such a believer in sharing books out loud with kids, it means a lot to me. But, most of all, it means a lot to me because it’s coming from you,” she said. “I really appreciate the work that you do on behalf of books, on behalf of writers, on behalf of the literary community, and in fostering these deep conversations and important relationships between readers and text.”
The five books that won Middle Reader Honor Awards this year were: As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books); The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, written by Adam Gidwitz and illustrated by Hatem Aly (Dutton Books for Young Readers); All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor (Katherine Tegen Books); The Best Man by Richard Peck (Dial Books); and When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers). Gidwitz, Connor, and Peck were at the celebration lunch and expressed their appreciation for independent booksellers’ support.
For Gidwitz, this was his second time addressing booksellers at a Celebration of Bookselling; the first was for an honor award for his 2010 title A Tale Dark and Grimm (Dutton Books for Young Readers). “You have always been the biggest champions of the things I write, which are often not the easiest things to sell, to hear. I’m deeply grateful,” said Gidwitz.
Noting that two of his recent school events were canceled due to community concerns about the witchcraft content in his newest book, he said, “What you do in your bookstores across the country, in communities that are like New York and in communities that are very different from New York, is so crucial in bringing the lifestyles, the ideas, the ideals of different kinds of people to young people who wouldn’t get the chance to see them.”
Gidwitz then challenged booksellers to push into those communities with handshakes and smiles and try to reach the young readers who attend schools that don’t have the ability to share books that showcase this diverse range of people, either due to a lack of resources or because of adults who limit access to these ideas.
The 2017 Picture Book Hall of Fame Inductees
Indie booksellers chose three classic picture books for induction into the Picture Book Hall of Fame: Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg (HMH Books for Young Readers); Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books); and Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers).
Indie Champion Award
Louise Erdrich was named the winner of the 2017 Indie Champion Award, which is presented to the author or illustrator who booksellers believe has the best sense of the importance of independent bookstores to their communities at large and the strongest personal commitment to foster and support the mission and passion of independent booksellers.
Erdrich is the author of the novel LaRose (Harper), which won the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and other award-winning novels including The Plague of Doves, Love Medicine, and The Round House. She also owns the independent bookstore Birchbark Books & Native Arts in Minneapolis, which focuses on Native American literature and the local Native community.
Via a videotaped acceptance speech, Erdrich thanked booksellers for honoring her with this year’s Indie Champion Award. She then spoke about how much people value books in Europe compared to how much books are valued in the U.S. Books and independent bookstores are cultural treasures, she said, but in Europe, indies flourish because books enjoy price protection.
While right now it may seem farfetched to talk about the possibility of price-protecting books, said Erdrich, “actually, the thing to do is what we are already doing — just being ourselves: eccentric, idea-crazy, customer-loving, flower box-planting, community-serving, and shelf-talker-writing people. These are the things we do: human things with a human reach and a passion that goes beyond profit. Independent bookstores grow into families and we provide for our families and, in the process, support free speech and democracy.”
Erdrich ended her speech by thanking booksellers once again for all they do: “For your commitment to providing many different sources of information, your joy in delighting children, and providing places where there is an exuberant free-flow of words and thoughts and stories. Thank you for this award and thank you for loving books.”
This year’s five Indie Champion Honorees were Isabel Allende, Marla Frazee, Gene Luen Yang, Jason Reynolds, and Salman Rushdie. Frazee and Yang, who were at the celebration, expressed their appreciation to booksellers.
In his comments, Yang explained to the lunch crowd how his wife, Theresa, recently put on a book fair at their children’s school with the help of their local bookstore, Hicklebee’s in San Jose, California. However, so much of what Hicklebee’s does is not about selling books, he said. “What they actually do is build community around stories, and right before our eyes, we saw that community form. All of you are out there building community around stories. You all are providing the glue that a community can use to create some sort of cohesion. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for building a home for people like me, and I say that as a parent, I say that as an author, and I say that as a reader.”
Following the Celebration of Bookselling and Author Awards Lunch, many of the authors, both honorees and Indie Next List authors, autographed their books in the ABA Member Lounge & Galley Room. —Sydney Jarrard and Liz Button