When Zora and Me was published by Candlewick last spring, Inkwood Books co-owners Carla Jimenez and Leslie Reiner wanted to bring the authors, Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon, to talk students at a local, low-income school. Thanks to the sponsorship of a local law firm, the Tampa, Florida, store was able to donate 100 books to students and host two events — one at a full-scholarship private school and another at the bookstore.
Pairing the authors with the school “couldn’t have been a better combination,” said Reiner. “To have two remarkable, black women speak to a group of minority students in Florida about a poor black girl in our state who went on to become a respected literary icon was wonderful,” she said.
When considering several possible sponsors for the event, Reiner brainstormed with Jimenez. “Carla immediately suggested the law firm where her husband works as they are committed to donating to many local charitable causes,” said Reiner. “They were the first and only sponsor we asked. I believe we could have found others, but we stopped with the first ‘yes.’”
Inkwood received a business-to-business discount on the 100 copies of the book purchased by Wilkes & McHugh and passed the savings on to the firm. The books went to two schools: Academy Prep, a private, full-scholarship school for inner-city children, and to Just Elementary School, a Title I school.
The books were “an incredibly meaningful donation,” Reiner said. “We continue to hear back from the schools.”
During the event at Academy Prep, the approximately 70 students were “obviously thrilled” to meet the authors, she said. “Their carefully prepared questions made for a lively and wide-ranging discussion, from Hurston’s place in Florida history to the reading tastes of the authors and their children.”
Inkwood coordinated Bond and Simon’s visit to the store with an awards ceremony for a student writing contest, and the authors were asked to present the awards. The winning students each received an Inkwood gift card, as did their media center/libraries.
All of the celebrating drew a crowd of about 40 people to the bookstore since each winner brought family, his or her teacher, and the school librarian. “The audience came for the awards but loved the authors (who were thrilled to present awards to new writers) and everyone wanted to buy the book,” said Reiner. “It was wonderful. The authors were so gracious.”
Inkwood had a personal connection within the local law firm, but Reiner said that the bookstore would have likely found another sponsor had the law firm been unable to contribute. She encouraged booksellers to try for similar sponsorship in their own neighborhoods. “Finding money from private corporations, banks, Junior Leagues, etc., is not impossible,” she said. “To have the children not only get an opportunity to hear an author speak, but to leave with their own personalized copy of the book is momentous. For some it may be their first book. Their only book.”