Jeffrey Lee Cheatham II, founder of Seattle Urban Book Expo, pictured with his mom, Amanda, and daughter, Josilyn; they stand on either side of him and he has his arms around them, all of them smiling at the amera

Seattle Urban Book Expo Is Back, Celebrating BIPOC Authors

by Patheresa Wells

The fifth Seattle Urban Book Expo (S.U.B.E.), known as The Black and Brown Literary Get-Down, returns on Aug. 14. The expo will take place from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. at El Centro de la Raza’s Centilia Cultural Center and Courtyard at 1660 S. Roberto Maestas Festival St. in Beacon Hill. The BIPOC-centered event provides a level of representation in the literary world that is usually lacking, giving BIPOC writers and publishers the opportunity to showcase their work to the community. S.U.B.E. is returning after a two-year break due to the pandemic. 

When speaking about the need for an event like this in Seattle, founder and author Jeffrey Lee Cheatham II said, “There are so many people in the community that create space for artists of visual arts, or theater, or music, but it seems like writers really don’t get thought about as art. And words make things happen so we need places to cultivate that.”

There are many ways in which attendees will have a chance to connect with authors at the expo. There will be over 30 authors to share and sell their work to those in attendance. In addition, there will be readings held throughout the day and panel discussions. The Sip & Chat Panel Hosted by Monique Taylor of Happy Black Girl will take place on Aug. 12, 6–9 p.m. at Wa Na Wari. Four authors will be speaking, and Couture Cocktails will serve drinks. 

And there won’t only be books at this literary event! A get-down isn’t complete without music and food — plan on bringing the whole family to enjoy activities for all ages. The Double Dutch Divas will be there jumping rope. Key Tech Labs will provide virtual reality games. And a face painting booth will also be available. 

Cheatham said he knows how discouraging it can be as a Black or Brown writer hoping to meet other writers to help build something. When he self-published his first children’s book, The Family Jones and Eggs of Rex, he didn’t know who to go to or talk to about how to do it right. And it was a chance invite from writer Stacey Marie Robinson to attend The Toronto Urban Book Expo in 2016 that planted the seed for Seattle’s expo. The opportunities that Cheatham had attending that expo and connecting with other BIPOC authors were something he wanted to replicate back home so that his community could learn from each other. 

“It’s very important for me to at least once a year, say all you Black and Brown nerds there’s a spot to go to be nerds for the weekend. And that’s why it’s important because there’s a lot of us here, and we don’t have a space to go to where we feel like home.” 

According to the 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey by Lee & Low Books, “76 percent of publishing staff, review journal staff, and literary agents are white.” And overall, the industry lacks representation in race, gender, orientation, and people with disabilities. 

This means the literary world is not only overwhelmingly white, but those who decide what is worthy of publication are as well. So for many underrepresented writers, their only path to publication is self-publishing or connecting with a small BIPOC-run press. 

Clara Olivo, the author of The Whisper, The Storm and The Light In Between, will be attending the event for the first time. Her book, recently reviewed by the Emerald, speaks to Olivo’s journey in becoming a poet and the struggles that come with being a BIPOC writer in the literary world. 

Olivo said, “…To participate in an event centered on BIPOC writers celebrates the beauty of our accomplishments and struggles. As a writer of color, I’ve longed for spaces that showcase our diverse stories without submitting to the white gaze. S.U.B.E. is providing a platform and opportunity for us to come together, in community to be our unapologetically Black and Brown selves. To finally share our words, our stories and our journey with each other.” 

According to Cheatham, this year’s expo will be bigger than ever, with partnerships happening with various community organizations like Wa Na Wari, Beacon Business Alliance, and many others. His dream has always been for the expo to be “like a book block party.” Cheatham is excited for the authors joining this year’s expo, like children’s book author, novelist, and screenplay writer Lenny Williams III. And KOMO News anchor/reporter Tyrah Majors, author of the children’s book Grammy and Me.

Following the event, the epilogue Espresso Red with Dero will take place from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at The Station coffee shop, closing out the festivities with music, an open mic, and drinks.

“The pandemic opened my eyes to how precious life can be and how precious opportunities are. I heard this quote that says history repeats itself, but opportunities don’t,” Cheatham said. 

For Cheatham, it’s vital that S.U.B.E. survived the pandemic and is back after a two-year break. Not only is this year’s expo a reintroduction of the organization and its mission to help self-published or indie authors of color, but it is also a chance to not only repeat history but repeat the access to opportunities that S.U.B.E. provides. 

Everything you need to know is on the Seattle Urban Book Expo website. You can also follow their Instagram page for readings and workshops they hold throughout the year.

Patheresa Wells is a Queer poet, writer, and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a Black mother and Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to advocate for and amplify her community. She is currently pursuing a B.A. in creative writing. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.

📸 Featured Image: Jeffrey Lee Cheatham II (center), founder of Seattle Urban Book Expo, pictured with his mom, Amanda, and daughter, Josilyn, at the fourth book expo in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Nikki Etienne)

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