On September 17th, I attended the Great Lakes African American Writers conference, GLAAWC for short (or Glossy, if you ask anyone there). This was the 5th annual conference, but my first time in attendance. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to attend every session, but I’ll discuss the ones I did attend.
I had never visited the Louis Stokes wing of the Cleveland Public Library, which was where the conference took place. It is vibrant, vast, and a beautiful setting for an event such as GLAAWC. On the lower level, a collection of local authors, publishers, and celebrities (Wayne Dawson, anyone?) were arranged outside the auditorium, where the main events took place. I paroused the tables and bought a few books, notably Stick With Your Own Kind: How to Use Highly Effective People to Achieve More and Life Better by Deante Young, and Just Like Old Times, by Chichima Cherry. The former is a self-improvement book, a gift I purchased for a friend. The latter is a book I bought for pleasure and pure indulgence (I love a good romance novel). There were several other authors present whose novels varied from hot, steamy romance, to urban fantasy to nonfiction/self-help.
The first session I attended was Grief and Writing as a Healing Modality, a panel discussion with Joy Reid, Teresa Winston, and Shavonne J Moore-Lobban. The women onstage discussed their trysts with grief (their own and others), and how they managed to transform these experiences through writing. The overall message was that the weight of grieving, a heavy and never ending process, is lessened by allowing writing to be the channel through which healing can take place.
The next session I attended was The Business of Black Books, a panel discussion attended by Mordecai Cargill (ThirdSpaceReadingRoom), Carlos Franklin (Black Stone Bookstore and Cultural Center in Ypsilanti MI) and Virginia Mixon (Center for Research and Culture in New York, NY). The three speakers were all owners of “Black bookstores”, Cargill being the newest to the business. They discussed the experience of owning such bookstores, the stigmas attached, as well as their individual reasoning for opening and managing such a space. In the end, Mixon and Franklin, bookstore veterans, left Cargill with advice and words of encouragement. My biggest takeaway from this session was that black bookstores, and all bookstores where texts written by marginalized folks are specifically advertised and sold, are necessary spaces.
The session following lunch was led by Denne Michele Norris, delivering the address for the Alice Dunbar Nelson Professional Keynote. Denne Michele is the editor-in-chief of Electric Literature, and is the first black, openly trans woman to lead a major literary publication. She is also the winner of the 2022 Whiting Literary Magazine Prize. Denne’s commentary was poignant and moving. She spoke eloquently on issues of race, particularly that of the treatment of race in the media. Prior to the conference, I had not heard of Denne’s work. However, after her presentation, I was already scouring her website to see where I could get my hands on some of her writing.
I met several other writers and authors, notably the poet RJ and a writer named Gloria (whose last name I didn’t catch). We each had distinct conversations about writing and its transformational properties, as well as the current state of education in Ohio as it pertains to literacy learning.
Overall, it was nice to be in a space with black writers. The tizzy of creativity in the air was wondrous--getting writers in a room together is always like that. I wish I could’ve gone to the Walter Mosley Keynote, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience what I did. I look forward to the 6th annual GLAAWC in 2023!