Current Events Dominate Final Day of Winter Institute

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While the 650 independent booksellers in Minneapolis during this year’s Winter Institute were there to network with one another and talk shop, conversations throughout the weekend inevitably turned to current events far beyond the Hyatt Regency -- and Monday was no exception. Even the morning’s keynote speaker, management coach Kim Scott, made several references to the Trump administration, as she presented her philosophy of employer-employee relations that is contained in her new book, Radical Candor: “You have to hold your employees accountable -- as well as our government,” she said. As professionals running a business, booksellers have “a moral obligation to challenge the people you work with” by caring about them personally and criticizing them directly, without descending into passive or “obnoxious” aggression.

If the attendance at Monday morning’s keynote was not a full house, it was for good reason: about 60 booksellers skipped the breakfast to meet elsewhere in the hotel to brainstorm on how to make their stores the sanctuaries that Saturday’s keynote speaker Roxane Gay had urged them to do. According to Anna Thorn of Upshur Books in Washington, D.C., one of the meet-up’s four organizers, three different groups of booksellers had wanted to do something in response to President Trump’s recent executive orders, as well as to move forward after Sunday’s lively Town Hall, when a number of young and new booksellers had challenged the ABA to make the industry more inclusive. The booksellers in attendance used the opportunity to explore ways to make their bookstores more inclusive beyond its customer base, and to establish a network to enable them to act in solidarity in response to government actions, such as tweeting out the same book title or image, and creating similar book displays.

“What is responsible bookselling,” Thorn asked PW, “What do we do as individual stores and how do we work together to reach out to our communities? How do we provide spaces for people in these times that are productive and safe?” Thorn said the meeting “worked out better than we could have imagined” with ideas ranging from creating multilingual websites to making available to customers cards with the contact information of elected officials to holding salons with local experts discussing current events. Booksellers were also urged to become actively involved in the regional bookseller associations and in the ABA – which had announced moments earlier at the morning’s breakfast that it was forming a diversity task force and asked for nominations for the ABA Booksellers Advisory Council.

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Politics even dominated the “Featured Talk: Indie Next List Authors” session later in the morning, with Kate DiCamillo, Ann Patchett, Alice Hoffman, Joshilyn Jackson, Ben Winters, and Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney repeatedly referring to current events in response to questions from moderators Josh Christie of Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine, and Erica Luttrell, a bookseller at Chevalier’s in Los Angeles.

Patchett disclosed that she often wakes up in the middle of the night in a “Trump sweat,” and recalled that her favorite sign at the recent Women’s March in Washington, D.C. had a literary allusion, “I refuse to live in The Handmaid’s Tale,” which prompted the other authors to recall signs they had seen at protests that had contained literary allusions.

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Winters pointed out that President Trump is “doggedly unliterary,” and is a “president who clearly hates books, hates words,” prompting Jackson to respond that it is “the essential thing that is wrong with him: that man is not reading. Through reading, that is how you learn empathy.”

Publishing books as an act of political resistance was an underlying theme of the Small and University Presses Lunch, where most of the 10 publishers presenting emphasized the diversity of their 2017 lists, as well as the topical nature of certain titles. Doug Seibold of Agate Publishing introduced its new Denene Millner children’s imprint, which focuses on the “everyday lives of the African-American community,” and Jennifer Baumgardner of Feminist Books introduced its new imprint, Amethyst Editions, curated by Michelle Tea, which will publish books by emerging LGBTQ+ writers. Nathan Rostron of Restless Books, which is launching a children’s imprint this fall, pointed out that, in resistance to the current administration’s latest policies, the Brooklyn-based publisher of international literature will continue to celebrate the immigrant experience by publishing such books as Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan (March), which won Restless’ 2016 Prize for New Immigrant Writing.

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“We see publishing as directly counteracting Trump and what [his administration] stands for by emphasizing diversity and under-represented voices and immigration and internationalism," Rostron said.

Ben LeRoy of Tyrus Books talked up Echolocation by Mark Powell (June), describing the novel about a CIA contractor as “something that is playing out today, as this country is reconciling what has been done in our name, and its repercussions around the globe.” Nathaniel Marunas of Quercus described Brian Freeman’s latest Jonathan Stride mystery, which begins with a terrorist act, Marathon (May) as “timely, especially considering the injustices of the current administration.” And the last speaker, Gianna LaMorte of the University of Texas Press, drew laughs when she said while presenting The Making of Hillary Clinton: The White House Years by Robert McNeeley (Jan.), that she was “not here to bum anyone out.”

Next year, Winter Institute 13 will move south, to Memphis, Tenn., January 22-25, 2018.

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