This is an archived issue of Belletrista. If you are looking for the current issue, you can find it here
Belletrista - A site promoting translated women authored literature from around the world


Book Expo America: Sore Feet and Literary Treasure
By Lois Ava-Matthew
Photo of exhibit floor

Book Expo America—the "premiere North American publishing event"—held in late May in New York City, is all about the glitz and glitter. Here is where the publishers try to woo us all into helping them promote the latest book by bestselling author X or create buzz for the NEXT BIG THING.

I arrived at the convention center on Tuesday, a day before the exhibit halls were to open. The cavernous and crystalline entry way of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center sported huge banners touting new books by such celebrity authors as Jon Stewart, Keith Richards, and bestselling romance author Debbie Macomber. C-span's "Book TV" had brought in their full-size bus as backdrop for an interview area. Penguin books displayed an adorable, little orange mini-Cooper adorned with their trademark Penguin logo in celebration of their 75th anniversary. There were large display areas of new books, an open meeting area, and on a lower level, a large registration area. On the way to the press room I could not help but notice some masseuses had an area set-up for giving neck and shoulder massages. I memorized their location.

Photo of crowded press room I have been to BEA several times before as a bookseller, so I knew basically what to expect of the next few days, and I was determined not to be too distracted by bright lights and big names. I spent some time constructing a carefully detailed plan for how I would efficiently navigate the exhibit floors to get everything done I needed to do. I wanted to touch base with as many of our publisher contacts as I could and make new contacts. And I wanted to get around through the whole event and be able to report to all of our readers the great books these publishers have in store for us this fall.

The Tuesday press conference featured an informative, if all-male, line-up of speakers. "The health of our democracy depends on the quality of the written word," declared the CEO of the American Association of Publishers. This may be true and inspiring, but hardly a reflection of the contents of the autographing booklet; a quick glance revealed such titles as The Safe and Sane Guide to Teenage Plastic Surgery, Help! My Baby Came Without Instructions and Unstoppable in Stilettos: Living Tall in a Small World.
Photo of panel discussion In the afternoon on Tuesday I slipped into one of the Global Market Forum's panel discussions, "Translation from Spanish to English: Overview, potentials and hurdles", a strikingly informative discussion that covered everything from the history of the availability of translated literature from Spain and Latin America, the American influence on Spanish literature, and the effects of globalization on translation. The group of speakers was optimistic, suggesting that we are the midst of a seachange, for the younger generation cares little whether a book they want to read has been translated or not. Out on the exhibition floor in the following two days, one could not miss the exhibits of countries like Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Italy, Argentina, Mexico, China and Lebanon (to name a few)—publishers, publishing associations, or ministries of culture, all here to showcase their countries' literature in hopes of translation for an American and English-reading market.

Photo of crowded registration area at Book Expo Book Expo America is indeed a very American event. Our obsession with celebrity was in evidence everywhere. Celebs like Sarah Ferguson (the Duchess, of course!), John Grisham, and Jon Stewart were scheduled to present at some of the breakfast/lunch events, while Barbra Streisand was the high note of the opening ceremony. Brazilian soccer (football) superstar Pelé (the only soccer superstar most of us can name besides David Beckham), Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, bestselling thriller authors Michael Connelly and Lee Child, and a myriad of bestselling children's authors and illustrators, romance writers and cookbook authors, were among the 500 authors slated to autograph throughout the event. Being a rather bookish sort (in a building full of bookish sorts), I was happy to see both Joyce Carol Oates and recent Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Harding on the schedule. Indeed, the program and exhibit halls promised a land of infinite literary riches (depending on how you define those riches, of course) and it was clear BEA was, once again, going to be the biggest book party in the country.
Photo of waiting for doors to open On Wednesday morning, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was teeming with excited booksellers, librarians, bloggers and other book industry professionals sporting multiple large tote bags and lining up thickly at each exhibit hall entryway as the clock ticked closer to 9 a.m. The release of the crowds into the exhibit halls can only be described as the literary equivalent of the running of the bulls, except that, in this case, most of the crowd were racing for the stacks of free reader copies at some of the publishers' exhibit spaces [Did I mention there were free books? The "free" books, for those of you who don't know, are part of the wooing process. Theoretically, we take a book, read it, and if we like it, we help create the buzz for it by telling our individual audiences how absolutely fab it is.] The crowd in some areas was so dense and so difficult to navigate that I scrapped my carefully crafted plan and decided to "wing it". This was "Survivor!" the BEA episode!
Photo of Joyce Carol Oates signing books One of the earliest things on my Wednesday agenda was to get over to Joyce Carol Oates's autographing line and catch a picture of one of America's premier authors (she's bloody brilliant, in my personal opinion). She nearly missed her event due to getting caught in traffic, but at least a dozen die-hard fans waited with me for a chance to get her autograph (or a picture for Belletrista, in my case). Having landed my photo, I was off to visit some of the publishers elsewhere on the exhibit floor to see what treasures I might find for our readers. Although I didn't ignore the big publishers, I was happy to visit with some of the spectacular smaller presses and imprints. Almost everywhere you went, there were enthusiastic publisher representatives smiling and wanting to talk about their books. Here is a modest list of just some of the treasures I found:

• Grove Atlantic Press was promoting a translation of German author Julia Franck's award-winning novel, Blindness of the Heart, forthcoming in the fall, and also this summer's Father of the Rain, by Lily King.
• I was pleased to see that HarperCollins was celebrating—in great style—50 years of To Kill a Mockingbird, an exquisite American classic by Harper Lee.
• I missed seeing Irish author Emma Donoghue in person but Atria Books (Simon & Schuster) was promoting her new book Room .

Photo of HarperCollins display Photo of Dalkey Archive exhibit Photo of City Lights exhibit Photo of Persea Books exhibit • Martin at Dalkey Archive Press talked up their forthcoming edition of The Word Book by Japanese author Mieko Kanai and alsoDolly City by Israeli author Orly Castel-Bloom. He also was passionate about the previously-published The Country Where No One Ever Dies by Albanian author Ornela Vorpsi.
• The Feminist Press showed us A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan who was making various appearances during the convention.
• Jedediah Berry of Small Beer Press slipped a copy of Meeks by Julia Holmes into my hand, It has been described, he said, as a kind of reverse Handmaid's Tale.(I read it on the train home!)
• Algonquin Books, a small press out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which published the early works of such authors as Anita Rau Badami and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie here in the United States, spoke highly of a forthcoming novel by Caroline Leavitt called Pictures of You.
• The University of Virginia pointed out Little Peul, a newly translated novel by Guinean author Mariama Barry, part of the press's "CARAF Books" series (Caribbean and African Literature translated from the French).
• Riverhead was promoting Sigrid Nunez's forthcoming novel, Salvation City and the author appeared at the convention
• Michael and Karen Braziller were excited about their new editions of Australian author Elizabeth Jolley's work, much of which has been out of print in this country. The first of these, The Vera Wright Trilogy has already been reviewed in Belletrista
• Coffee House Press talked to me about Kate Bernheimer's Horse, Flower, Bird, an innovative collection of modern fairy tales, illustrated by Rikki Ducornet.
• Europa Editions were pleased to give us a copy of the forthcoming A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé for review and talked up their forthcoming translation of Hygiene and the Assassin by Amélie Nothomb.
• Interlink Books pointed out Nigerian author Sefi Atta's forthcoming novel Swallow and Egyptian author Radwa Ashour's Specters, winner of the Cairo International Book Fair Prize. Clockroot Books, an imprint of Interlink, was promoting The Sleepwalker by Greek author Margarita Karapanou due out in September.

The excitement and buzz of Book Expo was not limited to the confines of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center; there were book events going on in the evenings all over the city, and publisher-sponsored, invitation-only dinners, happy-hours, and benefit concerts throughout the week. The event was both exhilarating and exhausting. My feet hurt—everyone's feet hurt! The weather outside the building was very hot and muggy, and we became drenched as we limped back to our space capsule-sized hotel room for a reviving shower or just to collapse.

Photo of rolls of fabric Photo of mannekin with paper dress Photo of a piece of New York cheesecake My husband and I are veteran travelers to NYC so we did not visit the general tourist sites as some might, but we did think to arrive in the city a few days ahead of the convention so that we could take in some great jazz at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village, and so I could thoroughly tour the fabric shops in the garment district. We had some great meals, particularly the dinners at the Spanish Taverna on 38th Street (although the country music seemed a bit out-of-place) and "Burgers and Cupcakes", a pleasant little find just around the corner (on 9th near 36th) which served—delicious burgers and cupcakes!

If Book Expo America is any indication, the fall season for readers will be filled with great books, many written by women. Watch for reviews of many of the books mentioned here in our forthcoming issues.

Photo captions, top to bottom: 1. Just one aisle of the BEA exhibit floor (courtesy BEA). 2. A crowded press room just before the press conference on Tuesday. 3. The "Translation from Spanish to English" panel discussion. 4. The registration area on Wednesday morning (courtesy BEA). 5. Waiting for the "doors" to open (courtesy BEA) 6. Joyce Carol Oates signing her forthcoming collection Sourland. 7. The HarperCollins exhibit—or half of it! 8. Parts of the City Lights, The Feminist Press, and Seven Stories Press exhibits (would you believe I won a "Howard Zinn pack" from Seven Stories Press?) 9. (right) Dalkey Archive Press. 10. (left) Michael and Karen Braziller of Persea Books promoting their new editions of Elizabeth Jolley works. 11. (bottom of page, left) Fabric, fabric and more fabric at just one of the stories in NYC's "Garment District". Some of us have other passions besides books! 12. (bottom of the page, middle) Mannekin dressed entirely in paper at the Drama Bookshop where we shopped. 13. (bottom, right) Obviously, New York cheesecake. Surely a cure for something. All photos by the author except where otherwise noted.

Photo of Lois Ava-Matthew as a child

Lois Ava-Matthew is the founder and managing editor of Belletrista. She is driven by an intense curiosity, a somewhat tempered sense of adventure, and too much chocolate.