Tag Archives: She Writes Press

Women's College Library, Duke University

Librarians: My Favorite Tribe! 

I’ve been in love with librarians ever since I could read.  They always helped me find any book I wanted, and encouraged me to learn and read more. From grades 5-8, I spent every afternoon after school in the Women’s College Library at Duke University.  I still feel more at home in a library than in any other public place. The smell of old books means more to me than the fragrance of almost any food.

Women's College Library, Duke University

When I learned that the New England Library Association meetings would happen just half a mile from my house this year, I was ecstatic for several reasons. My favorite tribe was coming right to my doorstep, and I’d be able to talk with them about my new book, An Address in Amsterdam. This historical novel of a young Jewish woman who joins the resistance was 13 years in the making, with many hours spent in museums, historic sites, archives and, of course, libraries from Amsterdam to Washington and Los Angeles.

Leah Chyten, Jeanne Blasburg, Laurel Huber, Mary Fillmore

Fortunately, my book was published by She Writes Press, an all women’s press which encourages us to help each other. So it was easy to ask who among the sisters wanted to share a table with me at NELA. By the time they came here to Burlington, Vermont, two were old buddies from the Brooklyn Book Festival: Jeanne Blasburg, author of Eden, a family saga set in a Rhode Island beach house; and Laurel Davis Huber, author of The Velveteen Daughter, the untold tale of the writer of the children’s classic and her daughter. Leah Chyten also happily joined us, with her story of the feminine divine in Judaism, Light Radiance Splendor.

For two long but delicious days, my sister authors and I stood and regaled any librarian who would listen with the stories of our books – what they were about, how we came to write them, what programs we offer, and why the books have done well with libraries and book groups. Twice a day, we did a raffle and saw the grins on the faces of the winners as they chose their free books. I distributed bibliographies on the Dutch resistance to the Nazi Occupation, post cards, and information about everything from my talk on “Resistance Then and Now: Learning from the Dutch” to “Anne Frank’s Neighbors: What Did They Do?”

Kata Welch from Cavendish, Vermont

Mostly, though, we chatted with the people who are on the front lines of defense of the written word. Of preventing any book from being banned. Of keeping both children and adults in touch with the freest information in our society. Yes, they also deal in audiobooks and computers and other media. But the foundation is books, and the love of books. It was a joy to reconnect with the librarians who had already invited me to come and talk with their patrons – to hear how people had responded, that they had to order a second copy of the book, that it was engaging younger readers. And I loved talking with the librarians whose devotion to their work goes so above and beyond what anyone will ever be paid for it. It’s a calling, not just a profession.

Cynthia Bermudez with prize books

Cynthia Bermudez with prize books

So much loses its shine or becomes diminished as we learn more about the world and age. I admire librarians just as much as I did as a child, standing by the counter with a pile of books that I’d devour by nightfall. My hat is still off to them, especially now that they are dealing with an increasingly demanding audience, new technologies, homeless people with nowhere else to go, and much more. If anyone can save our country today and keep us all thinking critically, it’s the librarians and their books.

The Brooklyn Book Festival Proves Reading is Alive!

It’s such a truism that people aren’t reading any more, and that the physical book is dying.  I don’t believe it — partly because the three littlest children I know love books more than almost anything.  Their favorite word after a story has been read is “AGAIN!”  I can’t believe that they won’t still be holding a book when they are grandmother-aged like me.

That apart, I just returned from the Brooklyn Book Festival, an extravaganza with hundreds of booths, dozens of workshops, and thousands of booklovers.  It was like eating ice cream all day.  When I approached the Belladonna booth, a young woman told me all about their feminist collective and the importance of women’s voices in literature.  I had to blink to be sure I wasn’t talking to my younger self.  The other (diverse) women at the booth were all under 30, and seemed just as thrilled as I was to be there.Brooklyn Book Festival crowd

The Festival was packed, in a good way. I couldn’t find this year’s attendance numbers, but the last count was 30,000.  Interspersed among what seemed like miles of booths were a few stages with bleachers or chairs facing them.  There was nearly always standing room – and the variety in the crowd really gave me hope.  It was nearly always a younger crowd with a few grey heads like mine interspersed rather than the reverse, more genders than we used to count, and lots of shades of human skins and beings.  Just seeing that rainbow gives me hope, especially at such a dire time in race relations and murders by police.

For me, the Festival was a landmark –  first time I’d ever been to an event like this as an author, not just as a reader.  I had the joy of walking around and talking with people who I know love books.  Yes, I asked them what they were displaying and why, what their favorites were, how the day was going.  But for the first time, I got to say “May I tell you about my book?  It’s An Address in Amsterdam, the story of a young Jewish woman who risks her life in the underground during World War II.  It’s coming out October 4 from She Writes Press.”  Almost everyone smiled and took a post card, usually with some positive comment.  Sometimes people who overhead asked for post cards, too!

The whole day was a love fest for people who love books.  The booths displayed exquisite letterpress editions, translations of books from a particular moment in France, books that cross the boundaries among the so-called “middle Eastern” nations, every kind of fiction and nonfiction (both pure and hybrid) imaginable.  The giants of the publishing industry were absent as far as I could see.  Everyone at a booth was from an independent bookstore, or a small or university press, or they were authors and publicists representing books directly.  All booklovers – the tribe I’ve belonged to more than any other since I was five years old.

My She Writes Press sisters had several booths, and I hope to be among them next year.  Here are Connie Hertzberg Mayo (The Island of Worthy Boys), Anjali Mutter Duva (Faint Promise of Rain) and Barbara Stark Nemon (Even in Darkness).  I read all of their books before coming, and can recommend each of them as a delicious experience for historical fiction readers — whether you are in 19th century Boston, 16th century India, or 20th century Europe.

Connie, Anjuli, Barbara at Brooklyn Book Fair

I was also happy to meet Sande Boritz Berger (The Sweetness, a Holocaust era novel which shows the intertwined fates of cousins on either side of the Atlantic) and Barbara Bracht Donsky (Veronica’s Grave, a powerful memoir about growing up without a mother).  Melissa Ray was there with a whole booth’s worth of Conjuring Casanova, a romp with a gorgeous cover of Venice.  Robert Soares of Booksparks also showed other She Writes books, including mine (!!) and Ginger McKnight-Chavers’ alluring new novel, In the Heart of Texas.

As I looked for a workshop site in neighborhood near the booths, I marveled at the Brooklyn rowhouses, so reminiscent of Amsterdam’s yet in a different color range, a rich, murky reddish brown.  Striding toward me were three women:  a tall, thin one with curly brown hair and two others wearing STAFF designations.  The first was Margaret Atwood, and I felt like a silly teenager gazing at her.  That’s a kind of gawking I can get into, as opposed to movie or TV stars who leave me unmoved.  I had already seen the line to get into the Atwood talk, and it circled around the block.  I instead chose a few events which probably wouldn’t attract the masses, the best being a panel on Inventing History in New Fiction (John Keene, Susan Daitch, Jeremy M. Davies, Christian Lorentzen).  Even that obscure subject in the first slot of the day drew a decent crowd.

My favorite “booth” was a van: Saint Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore and Textual Apothecary.  It’s stuffed with all kinds of works, and she traveled all the way from Montana to be in Brooklyn.  I bought Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and a book for my favorite three-year-old, spending the grand sum of $2.  But I’ll always remember Rita, and maybe one day, when I’m done promoting my own book, I’ll do just what she does. . .  There’s room for a van like hers on the east coast, I’m sure of it.  And the market will be there long after I’m gone.

Saint Rita at Brooklyn Book Festival