N.O. Book Fair moves to the C.B.D., remains D.I.Y.

By Ari Braverman

More than 70 vendors will congregate at the eleventh-annual New Orleans Book Fair this Saturday, Nov. 17, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 725 Magazine St. (at Girod). Some will be hawking ’zines and self-published manuscripts. Some will be promoting more traditionally produced books, and others will be displaying screen-printed t-shirts, handmade postcards, and more. Planned Parenthood will attend, as will local t-shirt company Dirty Coast, and a number of small-press distributors. A cadre of local non-profits and organizations such as the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), the Neighborhood Story Project, and the Historic New Orleans Collection will have employees (or interns) grinning at the crowd from behind tables.

G.K. Darby, founder of Garrett County Press, started the book fair in 2002. Throughout its existence, it has migrated from the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center to sprawling over several blocks of Frenchmen Street, and now to a warehouse in the CBD, changing and growing with each location. The event will begin with a reading series on a balcony above the fair’s milieu, and will continue into the early evening, with author events and other activities taking place throughout the day. Ben Sandmel, author of Ernie K-Doe: R&B Emperor of New Orleans, will read from his new biography at 1 p.m., and photographer Josephine Sacabo will present her new monograph at 4:30 p.m. A full list of presenters is here.

“Every year is exciting,” Justin Burnell [my boyfriend and book fair organizer] said. “It’s always great to see people who have been here before, and great to see people who are visiting for the first time, or who’ve just moved here. Every year I walk away with at least one or two books I would have never have heard of if I weren’t part of this event.”

Leo McGovern, who runs the local Antigravity magazine, is taking the reins as book fair director for the first time this year. Among the obstacles he had to deal with as the incoming organizer included charging vendors for tables—a new licensing mandate required by the city—but he said the fair remains the cheapest Louisiana event of its kind when it comes to licensing fees for vendors, ensuring the festival remains affordable for a wide swath of indie publishers and other book-related groups.

Vendors come primarily from South Louisiana, but some travel from Houston and Mississippi. Author and journalist Michael Steinberg has the distinction of traveling the longest distance for the book fair. Originally from Connecticut, Steinberg now lives in San Francisco. His first New Orleans Book Fair was the first after Katrina, and he has come every year since. Steinberg publishes his own books as Black Rain Press, and attends this year to promote “Otherwise Occupied,” a fictional chapbook inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Steinberg said he values the book fair’s presence as a hub for small-scale, individuated creativity, though his take on the subject waxes geographic: “For me, being a Yankee, being in the Deep South is great. There are so many people who are into art that it makes for great conversation, a great time. People here are always looking for new ways to express themselves, and there’s a culture here that appreciates that,” he said.