"The trends in book sales showed that African-American authors were crossing into the mainstream with a wider audience than maybe 40 years ago," says Judy Register, former head of the Scottsdale Library and co-founder of the Celebration of African-American Authors, now in its fifth year.
Register, along with Jewell Parker Rhodes, head of Arizona State University's Creative Writing Center, wanted to provide a forum for African-American authors to reach a public that did not have an inherent knowledge of their work. "Authors came to bookstores and libraries all of the time, but there wasn't a focus on African-American writers," says Register.
This year's Celebration partners with the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art's exhibition "HairStories," which explores the personal and societal impact of hair on African-American culture. The featured authors, Mat Johnson, Brandon Massey, C. Kelly Robinson and Nichelle Tramble, will read selections from their books as well as talk about the significance of hair in their lives and work. "Mat has even written a piece specifically for this event," says Register.
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Though each year's selected authors are nationally reviewed, they are often new or young writers that most people aren't familiar with. "People come not knowing who the authors are, but become intrigued by what they'd heard and want to read their books," says Register. "After meeting the authors and hearing them speak about what they've done, you get a whole new interest than if you'd just seen the name on a book list somewhere."