BY MICHAEL LUONGO| Book Expo America, an annual publishing industry event held in tandem with the public conference BookCon, took place May 31 to June 4 in New York. North America’s largest book event, Book Expo, held at the Javits Center, offered plenty of interest for the queer reader, from out gay celebrities headlining splashy talks and quiet signings by authors to conversations with political leaders who have over the years aligned themselves with the LGBTQ community.
Lesbian author and poet Eileen Myles, on June 1 and 2, signed copies of her new book, “Afterglow (a dog memoir),” from Grove Press. When Myles described her book as “a dog queer animal trans story, trans animal thing,” it seemed clear it is best read to be fully understood.
Other books of LGBTQ interest promoted at Book Expo included “David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music,” by Darryl W Bullock, from Overlook Press, and “Girls Will Be Boys: Cross-Dressed Women, Lesbians, and American Cinema, 1908-1934” by Laura Horak, from Rutgers University Press.
Designer Zac Posen also appeared at Book Expo, signing his new cookbook, “75 Recipes From Rustic to Refined,” published by Rodale Books. In a panel discussion titled “Creative Minds Discuss the Creative Process,” Posen credited having grown up in a home with strong feminist women with his comfort at a very early age about his sexuality. His coming out process, he said, proved far less difficult than that of many LGBTQ people he has known.
Book Expo scored an especially big gay celebrity in Neil Patrick Harris, of “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” “How I Met Your Mother,” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” fame. Harris was in conversation with children’s book author Lemony Snicket and Chris Harris, one of the forces behind “How I Met Your Mother.” Harris talked about his book “The Magic Misfits,” coming out soon from Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, and he also recounted the delight he and his husband David Burtka share in reading to their twin sons.
If that panel discussion panel was casual about the participation of an out gay actor, the American Booksellers Association luncheon during the Book Expo, which honored an octogenarian children’s book author who wrote about gay marriage, emphasized how very different the world was not so long ago. Richard Peck, a New Yorker who wrote “The Best Man,” from Dial Books, told the luncheon crowd, “I waited 80 years to write this book. How many people can say that?” He added, “I hope ‘The Best Man’ makes its way into classrooms, but for those it doesn’t I hope it makes its way on to the shelves of bookstores.”
Peck later told Gay City News that though many people might not think to give a gay-themed book to a child, “those who would keep this message from the young are overlooking members of their own families.”
Children’s books, including some that are LGBTQ-themed, were among those discussed by panelists during the session “Book Reviews: The Diversity Of Race, Ethnicity, And Sexual Orientation.” Panelists discussed the concept of “mirror’ books” where children of diverse backgrounds can see themselves, and “window” books, which allow them to see a world of diversity unlike their own.
Hannah Oliver Depp, operations manager with Word Books of Jersey City and Brooklyn, mentioned that a broad range of diverse books is helpful for children and their wider communities at large.
“You need diverse titles the way you need great titles,” she said. “They are one and the same.”
But according to Vicky Smith, a writer with Kirkus Reviews, among the challenges in getting diverse books reviewed is “trying to recruit reviewers who are not white middle-aged women like me.”
Another topic raised on this panel was the growing role of smaller bookstores in the US as the economy recovers and print books gain back ground previously lost to digital books. While LGBTQ-specific bookstores have largely closed throughout the nation, some good news coming out of Book Expo was about the resurgence of independent bookstores — and their role in community organizing.
Hillary Clinton, in a wide-ranging, at times nostalgic conversation with Cheryl Strayed, author of “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” mentioned this phenomenon and how she feels it will help the US going forward. Among Clinton’s favorite bookstores, she said, is Politics and Prose in Washington, which provides a sense of community for like-minded thinkers to share ideas. In mentioning the role of such bookstores in organizing communities, Clinton said, “I am going to do everything I can to support the resistance.”
Attorney Mecca Santana, who gave a talk on “Hiring for Diversity” at Book Expo, argued that independent bookstores and similar small businesses can offer LGBTQ customers and others a sense of safety and comfort. “In an age of tumult,” as Santana described the new age of Trump, bookstores that mark themselves with rainbow flags or other signifiers show they are open to “diversity-inclusive dialogue” of many different kinds.
Discussion, diversity, and freedom of speech were the main themes of a panel titled “First Amendment Resistance,” presented by Pen America. The panelists spent considerable time discussing the controversial gay author, former Breitbart editor, and fiery provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos — especially his recently failed book deal. Artist and activist Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, stressed the difference between free speech and hate speech and, in comments to Gay City News, said, “When we uplift hate speech we uplift hate promotion.”
For more information on Book Expo America and BookCon, visit bookexpoamerica.com/.