This morning, we interviewed J.L. Cheatham II about how he decided to be an author. The second half of this interview covers how he decided to launch the Seattle Urban Book Expo, and explains what people can expect from the second Seattle Urban Book Expo, which takes place on August 26th at Washington Hall.
So you just decided to throw a book expo without having any idea how to do that kind of thing.
It was kind of like an “if you build it, they will come” thing. So I connected with some people and got the space, and got everything going.
It turned out it was way more successful than I ever imagined. We had a total of eight authors including myself, a total of 250 people showed up to a space whose max capacity is 100. So there was this constant flow of activity. Everybody was having a good time with books, and I was like, "oh okay. We really are one of the top literary cities of the world. All right, cool."
Then the feedback afterwards was so humbling because everybody was like, “when's the next one?”
And now you’re having another one, on August 26th. Is it in the same spot?
No, it's at Washington Hall. It's from 1 to 5 pm. It's gonna be a party. That's the goal, I want a literary party.
Washington Hall is a great venue.
I love it. The staff is so…I feel like they're family now. I literally just pop up on them. I won't even announce myself, I just go over, knock on the door, they open the door for me, I'll just chill out, drink coffee, play dominoes, whatever. They've been great to me, everybody involved.
So, what can people expect this time?
Like I said, the goal is to have a literary party.
We've got 20 authors, we're gonna have four food vendors so people will have plenty to eat.
One of the things I noticed at the last one was people brought their kids, and I had nothing for kids. So this year I'm gonna have something called Juice and Paint, where there's a room in Washington Hall where kids go in and color, draw, write stories, and paint as the adults circulate the room and buy books and stuff like that.
Also, I have a face-painter too —that's gonna be outside near the food court. Well, I'm calling it the food court. It's really the parking lot, but I'm gonna turn it into an outdoor food court.
We’re gonna have music. I'm trying to keep people there. I want people to show up and stay for a bit. Nothing really starts a conversation than what type of literature you're into — especially when there's food and drinks involved. So that's the goal. Everybody can have a good time.
How did you get more than double the authors in two years? Did they come to you, or did you reach out to them?
I’m very heavy on social media. I promote everything all the time. Everybody was recommending this one because I think people remember [last year’s expo]. I was posting videos and pictures ot it and really highlighting how good of a time it was.
So I think people don't want to miss out on this one, because most likely, I'm only going to do this once a year. If you miss this one, you got to wait a whole other year for the next one to come.
Who are some of the writers that you think our readers should keep an eye out for this time? I know you love them all.
I love them all, but if I have to be selective, NyRee Ausler. She's doing a series called Retribution. I call it a romantic thriller. It really grabbed you from the first chapter.
Also, Sharon Blake. I love her stories. She has a book called The Thought Detox. She has a very troubled past and she overcame it.
Who else? Key Porter does her comic book series called Shifters. Another author who I'm interested in meeting for the first time is Omari Amili. I love his background. I just love stories by people who triumph over hard times and they don't let their situations define them, you know what I mean?
And you’re doing an event at the library just before this?
Yep. So the week of the Expo, August 23rd, we're having an author Q&A at the Seattle Public Library, the central branch in downtown Seattle. I'm going to be hosting and we're going to have three authors show up, NyRee Ausler, Zachary Driver, and also a representative for Seattle Escribe named Kenneth Martinez.
We're pretty much going to open ourselves up for questions for people who are in attendance. This is really like an open house for people to know what the Seattle Book Expo is.
I feel like this is my coming-out party. A lot of people know like we're trying to create an institution, and to create a culture of cultivating these promising authors here who feel like they don't have an outlet to express themselves.
We also have another Q&A event with the King County Library at Renton Library. That's on the 25th, at 3:00 pm. We have five authors that are going to be there: Freddy McClain, Key Porter, Raseedah Roberson, Omari Amili, and Natasha Rivers. It will be kind of the same structure: talking about their experiences as writers, reading a few passages from their books. I want to give the opportunity for people to get to know the authors because on the day of the expo, it will be pleasant madness.
I love that, “pleasant madness.” Did the first expo work for you? Do you feel like you're getting your work out there now?
Yeah, I really do. After the expo, all this stuff started happening. The book signings in Barnes and Noble, the work I do with Amazon, all this other stuff. Also, one thing that's weird, but pleasantly weird, is that people are calling me and asking me questions like I'm some kind of expert, seeking my advice.
You mean like publishing questions?
Yeah, like, "Hey man, how'd you do this? When'd you do that?" I'm giving my input but I'm also like, "What? Wait a minute. When did I become an expert?" I was just struggling literally a year and a half ago but now they treat me like I'm some kind of self-publishing whiz or something. I say it jokingly, but it's humbling. I'm always willing to share my information as I go along with this journey. I’m still not a finished product myself, you know? There's still a lot of things I've got to learn too.
Seattle's a pretty segregated town in a lot of ways, and that’s also true of the literary community. Is there anything that you think this city can do better to bring more writers of color into the conversation? It's great that you're doing the Expo, but there are names that I've never heard of before. They're local authors and this is kind of like my thing and I should know them and I don't. Do you have any thoughts about how to bring everybody together a little more?
We all want an opportunity. We just want a chance to show our work. I think if Seattle works hard to create an opportunity for authors of color to want to showcase their work, then you'll start seeing a bigger number of them.
I think Seattle could do a better job with creating opportunities for authors of color to showcase their work and also act like that they care. There's definitely a voice in my community, and the Latino community, and the Asian community, and Native American/Polynesian community who are writers. They have something to say but they need an opportunity for people to listen. That's why I'm very happy with the partnerships that have come from this because everyone that I've met with actually genuinely cares about our voices.
We just need to cultivate this bubbling artistic atmosphere that's going on here in Seattle, you know?