Honestly, when I headed off to SIBA, I didn’t really understand what I was attending.Â On several levels.
I was, of course, happy to be invited, and excited to meet people (that’s always fun).Â But it didn’t occur to me that SIBA is, really, where all the most devoted and committed book lovers gather.
When you go to a writing conference, it’s all about your own writing.Â That’s fun and the conversations are smart, but everyone is there for themselves. To promote themselves. That’s what I’m used to.Â As a writer, I was worried nobody would come to my SIBA reading, which was late at night, at the end of a long day.
Boy, was I wrong!Â It was a wonderful reading!Â All the other readers were amazing, Marjory Wentworth was a wonderful host, and the audience was fabulous, excited, still listening at the end of 12 hours of conference.
Because SIBA is where all the indie booksellers in the south go, each year, to connect and refuel. TheyÂ talk about books and how best to get them out into the world, and into the hands of the right readers.Â But unlike professors or authors or publicists or editors (who are all awesome, of course) booksellers like this don’t HAVE to promote books.Â These are small-businesspeople, who could, if they wanted to do so, sell something else. They could sell beer. They could sell widgets. They sell BOOKS!Â They are devoted.Â They have made a choice.Â They’re doing a kind of mission.
It was inspiring and touching and important for me to meet these people. Many of them, like my new BFFs in Forest City, NC, serve (and it IS service, what they do) small populations in out of the way places.Â Where they organize author events and function as a kind of cultural center.
Meeting them, I was reminded of the (sadly now gone) incredible Louie’s Bookstore Cafe. As a kid in Baltimore, my life was altered by the poetry and punk-rock comics I found at Louie’s.Â I felt I owned the place. It belonged to me, and I belonged to it.
For kids all over the south, the dedicated booksellers of SIBA are providing that sort of experience. They’re selecting books carefully, talking to their customers, maybe even permitting kids-without-money to sit on the floor and read books they can’t afford to buy. From Malaprops to Park Road to Regulator to Gothic Bookshop to Fireside to Bound-to-Be-Read to Acapella to… ah, hell, just go visit them all over at Marc’s site! I only wish I’d had a chance to meet everyone.
Can you imagine the difference between being a nerdy-reader-eleven-year-old (like I was) in Forest City, NC… and being that same girl, WITH a wonderful caring Indie bookstore in your town?Â It’s a HUGE thing. It might be the difference between becoming a writer, and not becoming a writer. No way to tell. But it matters.
Now, for the first time, I’m thinking about the constellation of such stores, in small places.Â And how vital they are to intelligent human discourse and education in general. How they build culture. I’m thinking of booklovers, young readers, writers. Particularly in out of the way places.
What Wanda Jewell has built with SIBA is astounding, and exciting, and it reminded me of who I want to be.
Of course, the conference was just plain fun, too. I got to eat nachos with Deb Wiles, and Ken Wheaton introduced me to the sweet pain of Booker’s (ironic, no?) bourbon.Â Marc Fitten was my (as always) partner in crime, and I ran into old friend Ted Lee. I got to meet Twitter pals Nikki Leone,Â Rich Rennicks and Robert Gray.Â And made new friends in Susan Gregg Gilmore and Janet Geddis. There’s no way I can mention it all here. I got to meet and see so many wonderful people.Â If I met you, but haven’t mentioned you, I mean to. I didn’t meet anyone who didn’t inspire me.Â It was THAT kind of experience.
Because that’s where the wonderful people are, in bookstores.
And I’d like to promise, now, that I will come visit any store affiliated with SIBA. By golly, I will! I will get there on my own steam, at some point, in some way. I will bring silly craft projects and talk to kids.Â Â Small groups are fine.Â Or one lonely girl who dreams of being a writer.Â I will be there, devoted.Â If the bookstores can do it, I’ll do it too.
I just might have to bring my kids…
Thanks, SIBA!Â Really.Â For all you do.