A Report from the Trenches: Volunteering at the Brooklyn Book Festival

Brooklyn’s Borough Hall hosted a fantastic event for Publishing on Sunday – the Brooklyn Book Festival.  But for the wind, which persisted in blowing bookmarks across tables, it was a beautiful day for over 160 vendors to congregate in the name of books.  Authors, publishers, and literary groups lined the sidewalks with booths dedicated to selling, promoting, or just talking about books.  I attended as a volunteer for the Women’s National Book Association, a non-profit organization of women (and some men) who work with and value books. It was one of many organizations there to promote reading and publishing.

The vendors in attendance were diverse, including everything from the Jane Austen Society to Harper Perennial to independent publishers advertising a single book.  Some of my personal favorites included the McSweeney’s booth (a publisher of books and literary journals, founded by Dave Eggers), and Joseph Koch’s Avalanche of Wonder (whose booth included an array of comics, graphic novels, and pop-culture paraphernalia).  The vendors were eager to talk about their projects, and everywhere you turned there were people discussing their new favorite publications.

The other main feature of the festival was a wide selection of events.  These events included workshops, readings from authors, book signings, and discussions on topics affecting the literary world.  The events were popular, and the line for tickets reached farther and farther back as the day progressed, into the crowd of book lovers and food vendors.  For students of publishing, this festival is a glimpse of what is happening now in publishing, from the smallest independents to the most famous authors.  I would highly suggest taking a walk to Borough Hall next year, and spending a few hours with the books.

WNBA-NYC Member Volunteers & Authors Needed!


When: Sunday, September 18th, 10:00AM – 6:00PM

Where: Brooklyn Book Festival

The Women’s National Book Association – New York City Chapter is going to the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival! Volunteers are needed to man the booth and help represent the WNBA. We’ll be promoting this year’s (pretty awesome) lineup of events, including National Reading Group Month and Great Group Reads. We’re also hoping to sign up new members!

Promote your book titles at the fair as well! While we are not selling any books this year, WNBA-NYC members are invited to promote their books with on-hand giveaways, such as bookmarks, postcards, etc. Just bring your promotional items to the festival for display and giveaway at the booth.

To volunteer or for more information, contact Linda Epstein at: programs@wnba-nyc.org, with the following subject line: BBF2011.

WNBA at the Strand: An Interview with Award-Winning Biographer Deirdre Bair

It was truly my pleasure to introduce all who attended the Strand Underground event, April 7, to Dr. Deirdre Bair, the award-winning, critically-acclaimed biographer of some of the twentieth century’s most important voices. Although I have always known Dr. Bair was an important biographer, the research I did before I interviewed her at the Strand Book Store impressed upon me just how important her work is and how lasting and impactful it will continue to be.  Her dedication to the craft of biography and to honestly and truthfully present the lives of her important cultural and literary subjects is a gift for the layperson and scholar alike.

Dr. Bair won the National Book Award for Samuel Beckett: A Biography. While still a graduate student she decided that there needed to be a comprehensive study made of the Irish avant-garde writer, poet, and dramatist, Samuel Beckett, so she wrote him a letter to ask if he would agree to meet with her. It was a very brave step for an unpublished biographer, especially given Beckett’s reputation for guarding his privacy. But Beckett responded by saying that he would “neither help nor hinder” her, and offered to introduce her to his friends; his enemies, he assured her, “you will find soon enough.” It was the beginning of a long process that produced a biography that in Beckett’s own words “got it right.”

Dr. Bair also regaled us with an account of the time she spent with the subject of her second biography, Simone De Beauvoir, the influential French existentialist philosopher, feminist and writer. The stories of her weekly meetings and conversations with De Beauvoir were fascinating to the audience, and shed some very interesting light on the personality and world of the woman who wrote the infamous, The Second Sex.

Anais Nin, whom Dr. Bair refers to as a “major-minor” writer, came next.  Perhaps best remembered for her diaries and erotic literature, Nin left behind box upon box of voluminous diaries which had been rewritten and edited many times. Getting a glimpse into the work and writing-process of the complicated double-life that Nin lived was spellbinding.

Dr. Bair’s next subject was Carl Jung, one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century and the founder of Analytical Psychology. The Jung biography won the Gradiva Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis. How writing this book came to be was also a fascinating story and learning that Dr. Bair had to learn German before writing it is a true testament to her dedication to the art and craft of writing biography!

Dr. Bair’s latest biography (which will be published this fall by Random House) is about Saul Steinberg, the Romanian-born American cartoonist and illustrator best known for his work in The New Yorker. For the New York audience, this subject was particularly interesting and we are all looking forward to its publication.

It was a wonderful, thought-provoking evening and the iconic Strand Underground, with its superb staff of book-lovers, was the perfect venue for this event.

Interview with a Biographer: Pace Professor at Strand Bookstore


STRAND UNDERGROUND EVENT with Deirdre Bair and Pace M.S. in Publishing’s own Prof. Jane Kinney-Denning!

When: April 7th, 6:30PM – 7:30PM

Where: The Strand Bookstore

The Women’s National Book Association-NYC Chapter returns to the Strand with an illuminating conversation on the art and craft of biography.

WNBA-NYC Member, Professor Jane Kinney-Denning, will interview the award-winning author Deirdre Bair at this special event in the Strand Underground.

Deirdre Bair has written biographies on Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, Carl Jung and Anais Nin. She is currently at work on a biography of New Yorker cartoonist Saul Steinberg.

FREE and Open to the Public!
RSVP to programs@wnba-nyc.org