There’s no book city like New York City as two major publishing industry events — Book Expo America and its sister gathering, BookCon, both at the Javits Convention Center — demonstrated again. Held May 30 to June 3, they represented the largest gathering of book industry experts and fans in the US and Canada.
The Expo offered plenty of interest for the LGBTQ reader, from gay celebrities and celebrity allies to activists promoting free speech, signings by queer authors, and appearances by politicians who have aligned themselves both for and against the community.
A variety of panels at the Book Expo were focused on diversity in the publishing world, touching on race, gender, sexuality, and markers of identity. A May 30 panel, Hiring for Diversity, focused on issues for small booksellers. Hannah Oliver Depp, of WORD Bookstores in New York and New Jersey, discussed how staff examine inventory, thinking of diverse customers, from African Americans to Latinos to LGBTQ people and others. Massachusetts native BrocheAroe Fabian of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina, talked about being a woman married to another woman in a conservative state.
After the panel, Fabian told Gay City News that as LGBTQ bookstores closed across the country, independent retailers filled the gap.
“That representation still needs to be there. I am out,” she said, adding that for young people, in particular, independent bookstores allow access to titles they might never be exposed to otherwise. Depending on how discreetly LGBTQ books are shelved, a young person, she said, “could be looking at anything, and so if it is something they still need to be keeping secret they are safe.”
The panel most directly focused on the queer community was Thursday’s “LGBTQ+ Authors on Gender and Identity In Science Fiction and Fantasy,” with Seth Dickinson, S.L. Huang, Charlie Jane Anders, and V.E. Schwab, moderated by Tor Books editor Emily Asher-Perrin. Huang spoke about how many people in the industry have challenged her use of women of color in powerful roles, as if that were not possible. Huang said,
“I am a real person, what does that say about me and how I feel in society?,” she said, adding, “I have explored a lot of things in writing, my own gender journey. I process almost everything through fiction.”
Anders picked up on that theme, saying, “Part of what keeps me excited about writing is that I am always trying on stuff through my characters, different ways of being and different ways of expressing yourself. That’s an important part of the writing process for me.”
The same day, PEN America, the free expression advocacy group, presented “Can Free Speech be Saved?” The panel included two well-known out gay speakers, civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas, along with Jill Abramson, who served as the first female executive editor of the New York Times. Katy Glenn Bass, PEN’s director of free expression policy and research, moderated.
After the panel, Mckesson spoke with Gay City News about intersectionality and how it is not always recognized in the queer gay community.
“Part of it is the way we tell the stories and who tells the stories,” he said. “The second is that intersectionality is about identities and the public conversation about identities is still pretty new.”
As an example, he said, “we are talking about the trans community in ways that we have never talked about before in public and that is new. I am a gay black man and we are talking about homophobia in black communities in public, and that is two years old.”
The ongoing conversation, he said, “is leading into spaces where people realize they are implicated too.”
Similarly, Vargas, who will have a new memoir out soon from HarperCollins called “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” said that he has had trouble getting LGBTQ American citizens to understand the plight of the undocumented.
“A lot of it has to do with language,” he said, pointing out that many leaders within the undocumented movement are themselves members of the LGBTQ community, existing within two closets until recently.
“I have to say somewhere up in Heaven Harvey Milk is smiling and James Baldwin are looking down like, ‘See, this is what intersectionality should look like,’” Vargas said.
Throughout Book Expo, LGBTQ authors and their books were featured in a variety of forums. This was especially true of children’s and young adult books. Among those signing were Robb Pearlman, debuting the new “Pink is for Boys,” out this year from Hachette, about raising children in a gender-neutral way. Gilbert Baker was also honored by a new children’s book by Gayle Pitman and Holly Clifton-Brown, “Sewing the Rainbow,” from Magination Press.
Carmen Maria Machado received an award from the American Booksellers Association, an organization promoting independent bookstores, for her 2017 book “Her Body and Other Parties,” from Graywolf Press. In her acceptance speech, she described the book as a “weird queer, lesbian, feminist” work that people at first did not know what to make of. (She also received a Lammy a few days later.) At Book Expo, Machado told Gay City News the book took five years to write and that winning this award “is incredibly exciting, and I love indies because they’ve done so much for this book and are such wonderful, essential places in our communities.”
Eileen Myles debuted a new book of poetry, “Evolution,” from Grove Press. She told Gay City News, “I am happy to be here for a book of poetry, which I think doesn’t get the attention it deserves at a place like this. I almost feel seditious being here.”
Celebrities and politicians were also promoting books and making appearances. Among them was Chris Colfer of “Glee” fame, who was promoting his “The Land of Stories” series of children’s books published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul spoke of their work on a new novel based on the Broadway play “Dear Evan Hansen,” out this year from the same publisher. Megan Mullally (Karen on “Will & Grace”) and her husband Nick Offerman read from their book “The Greatest Love Story Ever Told” out this year from Penguin Random House.
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer discussed his new book “The Briefing,” from Regnery Publishing, followed just minutes later by former Secretary of State John Kerry speaking about his new Simon & Schuster book, “Every Day is Extra.”
The May 31 Book Expo keynote was delivered by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who was promoting his new book, “Where We Go From Here,” from St. Martin’s Press. Sanders spoke of his support for LGBTQ and women’s rights and other social justice causes, but emphasized that “change always comes through activism,” rather than from a single leader. Pounding on the podium, he said, “It makes no sense that because people love somebody of the same gender they continue to be discriminated against.”