LOS ANGELES, CA-Reading improves literacy. That’s the message that authors were promoting during one of the more well-known book fairs in Southern California recently. For the Black community, this narrative is an essential issue of immediate concern. According to a National Assessment of Educational Progress report (2017), only 20 percent of fourth-grade black students were recorded as being proficient at basic reading levels.
That number drop to 18 percent for black students in the eighth grade. The onus to improve reading literacy among black youths is pertinent, said The Talented Tenth Historical & Present series author Ashley Feazell.
“I think that reading is always important for our youth, especially if they have plans on going to college,” Feazell said. “That’s basically what college is: reading and giving your opinion based on what you read. If they can get into certain books or certain genres that they like to read earlier on, in my opinion, it makes it easy for them to read books that they generally don’t like later on in life.”
Bestselling author Eric Jerome Dickey headlined the one day, the all-afternoon affair that was the annual Leimert Park Village Book Fair (LPVBF) in late August. Dickey, with 25 books under his belt, was the featured speaker/ lecturer on the day for the yearly book migration which was held at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Mall in South Los Angeles.
Dickey hit the main stage around midway of the book fair for a question and answer session before retreating to where a trove of his books waited for him to be signed as admirers of his work gathered in front of his booth, patiently holding back their enthusiasm as he greeted one fan after another.
Though Dickey was the day’s headliner, there were plenty of authors on hand hoping to get their work into somebody else’s hands. Unlike Dickey, most of the authors showcasing their work at the LPVBF, were hustling to get their books more exposure. The LPVBF had a little bit of everything that could appeal to a wide range of readers: fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, and the sci-fi genre.
J.B. Vample, the author of the “The College Life Series,” which speaks on the topic of college life through the eyes of five black women, said her first appearance at the heralded book fair was a great opportunity for her to engage with potential readers of her work from a different area code.
Vample flew to Los Angeles from Philadelphia just to take part in the LPVBF.
“This is my first time here at this event, and I think it’s good,” Vample said. “I’m having a good time. This is the fiction book series called ‘The College Life Series’ and the series follows the lives of five black women as go through their years of college.”
Vample conceptualized her book series idea as a teenager and still in high school.
“I was seventeen-years-old when I started this series,” Vample said. “I was getting ready to graduate from high school and go to college, so creative imagination created these characters and storylines around a college atmosphere, and I kind of ran with it.”
When it comes to literacy, particularly in the black community, Vample said it is critical to continue to push the importance of reading and writing to young people. The LPVBF event and others like it are a great way of underscoring the necessity of this issue.
“We need to read more, use our imagination more,” Vample said. “It’s like reading takes you to a whole different world. It expands your mind. I think it’s very important. I think nowadays, especially our youths, they’re more into video games and TV and all that other stuff, when I think it’s important to pick up a book sometimes and read. I’ve learned that a lot of young people have lost the love of reading because they feel like all their reading in school is for school. I think it’s important, especially as a fiction author, to get our books out there and market towards our young African American readers. You can love reading.”
Nadiyah Herron, author of “The Smart Woman’s Guide to Dating & Relationships” was on the same path as Vample but on a different mission in attending the LPVBF. Herron considers herself a relationship guru. And her book does just that, said Herron.
“I’m here to promote my book. I am a relationship expert, and my book ‘The Smart Woman’s Guide to Dating & Relationships’ have been selling like hotcakes,” Herron said. “People need help in their relationships-men and women alike. Surprisingly, I’ve gotten a lot of responses from men who were skeptical about reading it. But they’ve read it and said it helped them, too. It’s really about having a relationship rooted in Christ more above anything else. We’re anemic to relationships nowadays because of social media. It’s really about having a solid relationship with Christ. But it also addresses, not just amorous relationships, but relationships with our mom, our friends, and avoiding toxic relationships as well, red flags to look for and having the proper vision for your love life. It covers a life.”
As far as what sparked Herron to speak on relationships in book form? Those closest to her were struggling in that department of their lives.
“A lot of my girlfriends were dating married men as well as getting divorced,” Herron said. “A lot of people were getting divorced; falling like dominoes. I’m a relationship expert…I was coaching but I wanted something where I could have a blanket help for all couples, and so that’s why I wrote it.”
Children’s author Stephanie Singleton (The Adventures of Ryan & Riley and Mr. Teddy the teddy bear) said the onus of black literacy is at a critical time.
“It’s very important,” Singleton said. “Children learn from different levels, so I have the paperback and the audio, and it engages their minds in how they interpret things. A lot of kids catch on from reading, a lot of students use books, so we use a lot of pictures because this is a broad book, where it targets children from ages two to eight.”
As for what inspired her to start penning books for children, Singleton said she was just inspired to do so.
“They say that it takes a village to raise a child, and so I don’t have any children, but I knew that there was still something that I could do, instead of sitting back and watching,” said Singleton. “I’ve always been involved with children, and when I saw that…I don’t have any children, but it’s like there are so many children that need, that need mentors, that need that mother effect, and all they need is love. Just give children what they’re lacking: love, attention, and that’s what inspired me.”