Writers young and old on show at the 2023 Black Book Festival

Sarah Kittoe at her book stand at the festival. Pic: Nozipho Kittoe

Some publishers attending the Black Book Festival had decades of experience, but the youngest writer was only ten years old.

The annual Festival aims to showcase and provide opportunities for African-Caribbean writers, publishers and book sellers and was held at Goldsmiths, in New Cross. The festival had over 40 stalls of books, three exhibitions and a schedule full of singing, seminars, storytelling, workshops and “Windrush Vibes” with ‘DJ Stallion’.

The youngest contributor was ten-year-old Sarah Kittoe from Croydon, who is about to publish her fourth children’s book called ‘Ama and the Lost Key’. At seven years old she had already written and illustrated three books, as well as a colouring book for toddlers.

Her books are all for sale on her website, where she writes that purchases support London Methodist Church’s homeless young people initiative.

She recently went on a two week tour through Ghana, where she appeared at most of the country’s major media outlets in the country.

Her talent was first noticed by her teacher during her second school year, just before Covid. Sarah told ELL: “During lockdown I was reading a lot of books but couldn’t find many characters that looked like me, so I opted to write stories.” Not long after she published them with her parents support.

The Black Book Festival’s organiser David Simon told ELL: “The idea behind [the event] is to showcase the talent, goods, products and books of African-Caribbean writers, publishers and booksellers”. He organised the event together with his company, Simon Education, which has published books and provided weekend classes for African and Caribbean children both locally and internationally for over 35 years.

Garfield Robinson at his stand. Pic: Pius Bentgens

Among the stall holders was Garfield Robinson who was promoting his book ‘Keepers of the Flame, Saluting 100 Black Authors’, compiled to mark 20 years of bookselling. “Over 20 years I’ve met hundreds of black authors,” Robinson said, “I’m gonna pick 100 of them and I’m gonna ask: ‘What makes you write?’, ‘what inspires you?’ and ‘what do you want the reader to take away each time you publish a book?’”

Bookselling, he said has taken him and his family to places across the UK they never would have been to otherwise

At another stand stood Tyrone Smith, the founder of Boukman Academy named after the first leader of the Haitian revolution, Dutty Boukman, named for reading many books.

Smith described his academy as a “pan-African online school with free lessons on black history, political philosophy, political science, sociology, psychology – everything that makes up a black studies curriculum.”

Another bookseller, Stan Hilton, said: “I love to empower our people … they are all Afrocentric books to make sure that the young people get a good foundation of their history.”

The event also hosted three exhibitions, including the touring ‘From Emancipation to Windrush’ exhibition, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the passengers of the Empire Windrush in the UK.

The seminars were almost entirely sold out and shared skills on how to write, publish and then market a book.

‘From Emancipation to Windrush’ exhibition by the Windrush foundation. Pic: Pius Bentgens

Simon found witnessing the first in-person Black Book Festival to have been “very fulfilling”. He added that the event had also helped recruit several sponsors to support schools in Africa and the Caribbean with educational resources.

For next year, he hopes the event will grow bigger so that it can better support the black community, locally and internationally.

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