The Bay Area Book Festival, which wrapped up over the weekend, was a two-day event that included hundreds of speakers and authors, pulling in an all-ages crowd of nearly 25,000 people. The schedule was packed with author talks, panel discussions, and performances that covered a range of today’s most relevant issues, including everything from genetic engineering to prison reform, economic injustice to modern indigenous identity.
Founded by Cherilyn Parsons, the BABF celebrated its fifth year this weekend in downtown Berkeley. “I think that we have found our voice in a way. It’s weird to say we’ve arrived, but when you hit the five year mark, it’s like, you’re here. You’re not a toddler anymore. You’re going to kindergarten,” Parsons told the Daily Californian.
Parsons’s festival team is nearly all female and features Latinas in strong roles, including her program manager Claire Calderón who is in large part responsible for bringing in some of the BABF’s standout attendees of color. “She put together a list of people of color headliners and I mean it’s just such a star-studded cast,” poet Aya de Leon told the paper.
De Leon, an Afro-Latina spoken word poet and creative writing professor at UC Berkeley, was one of the attendees repping Latinx voices at the BABF. She took part in an event on Sunday with comic book creator Edgar Miranda-Rodriguez to discuss how popular fiction can be a powerful force for change for communities that have been hit by natural disasters. Both Miranda-Rodriguez and de Leon have upcoming publications that directly reference Hurricane Maria and its impact on Puerto Rico. There was also Zoraida Córdova, the Ecuadorian-American novelist of YA series Brooklyn Bruja and Mexican-American YA author Anna-Marie McLemore whose novels feature queer, Latinx characters.
Miranda-Rodriguez, the creator of the comic book superhero La Borinqueña, published the comic anthology Ricanstruction: Reminiscing and Rebuilding Puerto Rico that featured work from over 100 contributors; the anthology even includes a cast of DC superheroes. The collection of stories looks to both the past and future of the island to give respect to its history and foster inspiration for where it goes from here. All of the proceeds from Ricanstruction: Reminiscing and Rebuilding Puerto Rico are directed to disaster relief efforts. The publication has raised over $250,000 to date.
De Leon is the fire behind the Justice Hustlers series, a collection of urban, feminist heist books. Her next book, Side Chick Nation, takes readers to the storm and its aftermath itself, revealing the damage, loss, corruption, and trauma that the disaster that it brought to Puerto Rico, all while her badass female protagonists stake claim over what’s due to them. The novel hits bookstore shelves next month.