by Troy Landrum Jr.
My writing journey began approximately eight years ago — possibly 30-something years, if the journey includes reading memorable books and making up stories in my head through my middle-grade years and adolescence. Specifically during that eight-year span I had the honor of meeting a lot of wonderful people along the way who shared those same hopes of making something out of the stories that floated around in their heads.
My first encounter with Jeffrey Cheatham was about five years ago. He was teaching a workshop at Renton Highlands Library. My hope was to meet like-minded folks who understood the specific struggles of finding a way into the literary matrix as a Person of Color. His workshop provided that for me, leading me to make connections with other authors who I’d collaborate with in the future, be encouraged by, stay accountable to, and who I could support in their journey along the way. Jeffrey, as an instructor, was just as accessible and open to sharing in that journey with us, dismantling the hierarchy of instructor and student. He made it clear that we were all peers trying to make our passions into reality; he was just a helpful guide interested in creating platforms for our work to soar along with his. Through these platforms he hoped to provide and his presence, he made it easier for all of us to support and watch the spectacular things he had in store for the future.
Jeffrey Lee Cheatham II is Seattle’s award-winning children’s book author and founder of Seattle Urban Book Expo, S.U.B.E. for short. The Seattle Urban Book Expo is one of the biggest platforms he has created for authors and more specifically authors of color. S.U.B.E. exists to open the doors for self-published authors in a city that loves to read but very rarely provides space for authors of color to promote and thrive as writers. Cheatham has focused on changing that. His summer expo brings self-published authors from all over Washington to promote and sell their work to the public, to build their audience, build their brand, and establish themselves as published authors. S.U.B.E. has grown every year, from 250 participants in 2016 to tripling those numbers in 2022.
Cheatham is focused on continuing to expand through workshops and more frequent partnered events throughout the year to keep the momentum going, “I’m trying to have the community see that the expo is here, that we are here in the community more frequently, not just for the summer. … I want to start developing a trust within the community and the community of writers and authors,” said Cheatham.
One newly created event that S.U.B.E. will host this winter is a spinoff of the summer expo, known as Children’s Books Day. This event will be held at Town Hall on Dec. 3 from 12 to 3 p.m. The event will feature authors and programs, such as Tyrah Majors, Seattle Escribe, Joe Brooks, Sana Vinoth, and Look, Listen, & Learn.
Children’s Book Day is a free event that will give young people and adults an opportunity to support the local BIPOC children’s book authors of our region. “For S.U.B.E., this will be an opportunity to shed light on the talent that we have in our communities. My ultimate goal is, I would love for children to meet their new favorite children’s book author. … Also, that you get to learn about the Seattle Urban Book Expo and are willing to support and help us grow, so that we can extend our reach and establish more of a footing in the community as a viable, legitimate literary organization,” said Cheatham.
This event will bring Cheatham’s writing journey full circle — a journey that never followed a direct road map, but that flowed through life’s twists and turns, primarily driven by an itch to follow his creative instincts. When his daughter was born, he made it his mission to show her how to follow her own creative instincts. “I made the choice to show my daughter that if you have a passion for something, that you pursue it,” said Cheatham.
His mission led him to write his first children’s book, The Family Jones and the Eggs of Rex, a book he wrote for his daughter because of the lack of melanin in the characters of the books that were available for her to read. Cheatham’s first book caught the attention of Stacey Marie Robinson, who created the Toronto Urban Book Expo in Canada. He was truly inspired after seeing the extraordinary work the Expo did for its local authors and wanted to replicate that in Seattle. He did, and he has been leading the charge since 2016, ultimately bringing himself back to the very thing that started his children’s books journey. He is now able to share that joy with his community.
Cheatham is changing what it means for local BIPOC authors to gain community exposure and for their work to be household names for the many families and community members who come and support the local talent. He saw a need in the community and he fulfilled that need. It has been amazing to witness Cheatham create spaces for hopeful writers like myself to learn, to grow, to collaborate, and to find the courage to claim themselves as artists. Dec. 3 will be an ongoing testament to what the power of storytelling and opportunity can breed for our wonderful communities and — who knows? — maybe one day inspiring a young mind to create an even greater space.
Troy Landrum Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and is currently a program producer for KUOW’s “Radioactive” program. He has spent the past few years as a bookseller at Third Place Books in Seward Park and recently graduated with a master’s in fine arts at the University of Washington, Bothell. Follow Troy on Twitter at @TroyLandrumJr.
📸 Featured Image: Jeffrey Cheatham at the fifth Seattle Urban Book Expo. (Photo: Victor Jones of DV Squared)
Before you move on to the next story …
The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With around 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible.
If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn’t have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference.
We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!