Urban Book Fest showcases local African-American authors

07/26/2014 1:43 PM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

Author Trina Beasley is tired of watching talent leave Wichita. She knows that some of the most creative African-Americans have left her home city for artistic pursuits elsewhere. She sees the need for an outlet to showcase their abilities.

“A lot of big cities steal all of our talent because our people here think that you have to leave in order to get noticed,” Beasley said. “People like Langston Hughes and Gordon Parks had to go elsewhere in order to become well known. Places like New York and California end up getting the credit for what has been created elsewhere.”

Beasley, who also works at a correctional facility for Sedgwick County, decided to use the occasion of her first book release as a catalyst for creating an outlet that she hopes will help start to reverse that trend. Rather than hold a simple book signing to promote her recently published novel, she teamed up with fellow Kansas writers Charles E. Brown, Kevin Harrison and Wilma Holloway to put on a larger-scale event. The Urban Book Fest, which will be held this Sunday at Abode Venue, 1300 E. Douglas, celebrates black authors and showcases their individual works. It’s an occasion that Beasley hopes can be repeated.

“This is a first for Wichita, having an art event that’s focused solely on black authors,” she said. “Hopefully this is something that we can start doing annually. Moving forward, we don’t want to just limit it to authors, though that’s the focus. We’ll also want to allow people to show off their visual art, music and anything that’s (art) education-related. We hope we can grow it in that direction and get people excited about coming out to support African-Americans who are sharing their artistic talents locally.”

The event itself will take on a different format from standard book signings. In addition to readings, live orchestra music, an a capella performance and free food and drinks will be part of the soirée. Each author will present their work in a different format, too. Beasley, whose book “Madam Honey” chronicles the life of a madam running a brothel in the Deep South, will show a pre-recorded interview where she discusses the book and its themes. Holloway will do the same. Her book, “The Last Man,” is an account of her dating experiences as a Christian woman and chronicles her journey through marriage, divorce, singlehood and befriending and dating diverse and alluring men.

Brown will give a talk about his book, “Bad Coffy,” a thriller about a mother who escapes a life of voodoo and witchcraft only to find evil revived when a dead body turns up on her condemned property in Mississippi. Select passages will also be read aloud by professional voice actors who helped record the audio version. Harrison also will do a reading from his novel “Cameron Banks: The Reality Show,” a comedic, erotic thriller about a bachelor at the pinnacle of success whose deep personal dilemmas are buried beneath a façade he’s carefully crafted. A meet and greet with all four authors will follow the readings, and attendees may purchase copies of the books at the event.

“It won’t be a regular book signing where you just sit down and the authors read,” Beasley said. “We will have that part, but it won’t be just that. It will be more of a festival and very festive in nature. It’s free, too, so we hope people will come out and enjoy it.”

While Beasley’s and Holloway’s books were released earlier this year, Brown’s was published in 2013 and Harrison released his risqué tome in 2011. The four authors organized and helped raise the money to put on the event. Beasley believes there will be synergy since their works cover different genres but often have intersecting themes. She thinks as many as 300 may attend.

“Wichita doesn’t have many outlets for writers … but I know that we do have the talent here. This is something that people who are from here can attend and be proud of. You don’t have to go out of town to see successful, creative African-Americans making meaningful contributions to the arts. We need this here.”

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