In celebration of Black History Month, the Rochester Black Authors Association is hosting its first “Books & Bubbly” event next week.
Featured authors Breanna J. Marshall and S. Shine will read excerpts from their books and answer questions, alongside a champagne toast, at literary center Writers & Books.
“It will be an uplifting event introducing local Black authors and celebrating their works,” says CaTyra Polland, executive secretary of RBAA. “It’s a chance to learn more about them, be inspired by them, learn what it takes to be an author, and build camaraderie with the community.”
Marshall was named the 2019 Author of the Year at Roc Awards and has written nine books through her own company, Epic Dynasty Publishing. She continues to write short stories online. Through her company, Messy Mind Publishing, Shine has written the “Against Every Odd” trilogy and the novel “Why Would I Love You?”
Polland says anyone interested in fiction with exciting intrigue and love stories will appreciate the readings from Marshall’s and Shine’s work and the chance to read for themselves. Tickets include one book of a guest’s choice. Polland says she’s appreciative of urban fiction like Marshall’s that comes from a place of cultural knowledge and understanding.
“It’s important that stories are told with authenticity and are not pigeonholed in stereotypical ways,” she says.
“As Black writers, we should feel that we belong and deserve a place in the literary world,” she continues, describing the importance of events like Books & Bubbly. “We don’t want to ignore the fact that, in our history, we were killed for learning to read and write.”
Polland and others at RBAA are concerned about youth literacy. Keeping in mind that standardized tests have been criticized for cultural bias, they paint a bleak picture of literacy in the U.S., particularly among young people of color.
Locally, last month Brigance scores for the fall 2022 kindergarten class in the Rochester City School District were released. The results indicated that 68 percent of students assessed scored at Level 1 or Level 2, which is below “functioning in normal range.”
Nationally, a 2019 study from the National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that 47 percent of Black fourth graders were at basic NAEP level, 18 percentage points below the average for all demographics (65 percent).
The literary world also faces a gap. A 2019 survey by publisher Lee & Low Books found that the book publishing industry overall only had 5 percent identifying as “Black/Afro American/Afro Caribbean.” (76 percent identified as white.)
RBAA began in 2015, inspired by similar associations, as a way to support and guide authors and book publishers of color. RBAA’s major event is its annual expo, which connects the local literary community together. “Books & Bubbly” is an extension of that vision.
“Everyone on our board is involved in the industry in some way. As an author, a publisher, an editor, we’ve all been there before and feel like we can help guide others to success,” says Polland.
“You don’t need to be a certain person, or come from a certain background,” she adds. “You just have to believe in enhancing Black literacy and education in the world.”
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].
My congratulations to the Rochester Black Authors Association for the opportunity to bring their mission in front of this community’s other authors. As an active member of the LCRW (Lilac City Rochester Writers) and author of a very current book “The ROC: Journey thru the 20th Century” telling the history of Rochester’s airport I am excited for you. Unfortunately the event was bought to my attention too late for me to attend. However, I sincerely hope you have a successful event.