by Carla Bell
“We create worlds” – a commission and a solemn responsibility. Almost a decree. From a young age, it’s this magic and power that drew him in.
Jeff “Jay” Cheatham II, founder of the Seattle Urban Book Expo (SUBE), recalls stories of good vs. evil, villains and heroes, comic book dramas, and even televised wrestling as early influencers of his voice as a writer today.
Having always been a voracious reader, and considered an outlier in this way amongst friends and family, Jeff was moved by Black life experiences of struggle and triumph in stories that he’d read.
Books like Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America, Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley occupy top shelves in his mind and heart. The grit and earthiness of those accounts of Black men coming into a catalyzing awareness of themselves and their power became substance and sustenance for him.
Jeff, a Seattleite born and raised, and a Franklin High School graduate, headed south to the College of San Mateo where his football dreams sustained substantial injuries, literally. Returning to Seattle, and becoming a father in more recent years, spurred an immediacy about establishing his life’s direction and being accountable to the pursuit of his authentic purpose. His daughter Josilyn became that accountability, and has been his muse since her birth 9 years ago.
The void of community for writers of color in Seattle, and a visit to the 2016 Toronto Book Expo, is what ultimately charged him to form SUBE. With the help of a small dedicated team, Jeff put his plan into action, and now, SUBE provides for others the very community that he once desperately sought for himself.
“I want to make being a writer cool again, like in the days of the Harlem Renaissance,” says Cheatham.
In its second year, SUBE promises to be bigger and better than before, featuring authors of color from all over the world, including members of the Latino Book Club all the way from Argentina, El Salvador, and Mexico! Every visitor will appreciate the casual atmosphere of Washington Hall, visual artists’ booths, face-painting for the kids and the usual no-fee admission.
A pop-up outdoor food court in the sun will welcome one and all with a variety of culinary options. Catfish Corner, a long time favorite of Greater Seattle, returns again this year, joined by Hidmo, Chef Dwane Butler, and Pastry Chef Kimberly Dixon. SUBE brings together communities of color, literary and visual artists, families, food, and fun. There’s truly something for everyone.
In the days following the event, SUBE will host a mixer where authors and visitors will enjoy an intimate space and time to get to know one another over wine and light fare. The bustling nature of SUBE can make this sort of meaningful exchange quite difficult, so organizers encourage attendees to take advantage of this opportunity.
Looking ahead to 2018, Cheatham says SUBE will occupy a larger footprint, both physically and conceptually – providing even more opportunities for promotion of Black and Brown writers, and much needed support. Those plans are in the works and will be shared with SUBE followers over the next year.
The Seattle Urban Book Expo will take place August 26th from 1pm to 5pm at Washington Hall.
Carla Bell is a Seattle-based freelance writer, abolitionist, restorative justice and civil rights advocate, and a perpetual student of arts and culture.
Featured image courtesy of Seattle Urban Book Expo