ABA Winter Institute 2018 – Memphis
I have been away from the shop floor a fair bit in January so I thought I’d let you know what I’ve been up to…
Since moving from publisher at Bloomsbury to bookseller at Mainstreet, one of the most positive elements has been the collegiate spirit among fellow booksellers. I joined our industry body, The Booksellers Association (BA), before we even opened the shop, and have been on the Council since 2011, serving briefly as Vice President, and am now nearing the end of a two year term as President.
One of the many privileges of this role has been the opportunity to attend the American Booksellers Association (ABA)’s annual Winter Institute. The event visits a different US city every year, and this time we were off to Memphis, Tennessee. A large group of us from the UK, a mix of booksellers, wholesalers and BA staff, arrived to join over 700 US booksellers for the 4 day conference.
Winter Institute always hosts a first night drinks reception for their international visitors. This year, it was a very different affair with the venue being the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Easily one of the most moving (living) museums I have ever experience, it set a very thoughtful tone for the week, which began, appropriately enough, with a bus drive to the deep south, elegantly narrated by local author, Jamie Kornegay, taking in his former bookshop, TurnRow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi.
Back at the Institute, we were into the busy programme of keynote addresses, and breakout sessions taking us from 7.30am to 6pm most days. Juno Diaz blew everyone away with his passionate speech about his own experience of immigration, “…to immigrate as a child is to be thrown into a hurricane. To be a young immigrant is to survive an apocalypse, an apocalypse that devours your world and hurls you naked and voiceless into another,” he said. “Nothing else can do justice to that impossible dislocation. Immigration really is as close as many of us will come to living through an end of a world.”
A lot of the things I’ll take away from Memphis (other than the extraordinary Civil Rights Museum) are quite book trade techie so I won’t bore you with them here, but one thing I’ve been meaning to do for many years IS finally going to happen – we will be playing vinyl and selling a small selection from our Home dept – watch this space (and yes, there will be lots of Blues).
Finally the best ideas are often those gleaned over a beer outwith the official programme – if that takes place at Elvis’ Graceland, so much the more eccentric. My highlight of these many conversations was discovering that almost all the UK indies at Winter Institute were, like me, huge fans of Educated by Tara Westover (in store mid Feb). The buzz started with her visit to the BA Conference in September, and our very enthusiastic group predict that it will be bigger than H is for Hawk. You heard it here first!