Soulful Chicago Book Fair

Think Scholastic Book Fair meets your black family reunion/block party.

This month’s Soulful Chicago Book Fair promises to be a gathering of the griots. The fair, founded by Asadah Kirkland, will present a counter-narrative to Chicago’s violent reputation that’s perpetuated by the media, and it’ll do so in Woodlawn, a neighborhood known for high crime. That was by design.

“I had somebody from the city tell me, ‘You’re doing it in the most gang-infested area!’ I was like, ‘So, they do their laundry and blow their noses just like I do,” Kirkland said. “If they want to focus on destruction, then we have to present something that creates something.”

A Harlem native and proud Chicago transplant, Kirkland published “Beating Black Kids” in 2009, which led to appearances on news outlets like CNN, Al-Jazeera America and Essence. Kirkland said the idea of a book fair came from having experienced the Harlem Book Fair as an author, and wondering why there wasn’t one in Chicago.

“When I looked at the dynamic of what New York has for authors, I really couldn’t believe that Chicago didn’t have one,” she said. “That was sort of the, ‘OK. I’m not going to ask someone to create it. I’m going to create it from an author standpoint.’ I think that’s what’s different.”

Kirkland said there are all kinds of ways that we are not tapping into these communities or providing a stage or avenues for them to express themselves.

“I find that Chicago as a city is a city of arts. A lot of credence and support is given to visual arts, as well as movement and dance, but I don’t really see a lot for literary arts,” Kirkland said. “So I’ll take that over. I’ll take that challenge.”

The fair will showcase over 100 black authors and span six city blocks organized by genre, i.e. children’s, fiction, nonfiction categories like cuisine, history and spirituality. Kirkland said she only expected Chicagoan authors to submit their books, but quickly started fielding inquires from across the country including New York, D.C. and Texas.

The event will begin with a processional with youth drummers leading a float of 15-20 community elders to the main stage near King Drive to honor the centennial anniversary of the Great Migration. As per African tradition, the elders will be asked permission to begin the fair.

Workshops will have everything an author needs, including tips on writer’s block, code switching and publishing. An awards ceremony will honor new authors and youth can enter the Timuel D. Black Chicago History Essay Contest. Black, a civil rights activist who has worked to elevate black leaders for decades including Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama, has been collecting oral histories in Chicago for years as part of his Bridges of Memory series. He crafted the essay prompt to reconnect the young writers with their own – and the city’s – history.

“I took him to lunch and said, ‘What would you like to see in this essay contest?’ and oh my gosh,” Kirkland said. “He’s not 97 and senile. He’s 97 and sharp. He came up with, ‘I want them to interview their oldest living relative and I want them to find out Chicago history and the role that their families played in that history. He gave several benchmarks they can look at in history and parallel it with their families.”

The entertainment options also span genres, but will still highlight incredible writers. Grammy-nominated singer and producer Eric Roberson will perform along with spoken word, jazz, dance and a stage adaptation of Dr. Charles Johnson’s book Middle Passage. Songwriters are purposely included with authors, Kirkland said, because songs are one of the biggest ways we author what we think and feel. She hopes everyone is able to get full from the event.

“This event will breathe life into not the community that it serves, but people will see a different Chicago after it’s done.”

The Soulful Chicago Book Fair is on Saturday, July 16, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., on 61st Street, between Cottage Grove and King Drive.


  • Distinguished poet Useni Perkins and “Developing Dramatic Material for Black Children”
  • Donna Beasley and “12 Steps to Write, Publish and Promote Your Children’s Book”
  • Bernard Turner and “From the Head to the Pad”
  • Mama Edie, “Exploring the Power Potential of Switch-Coding Between Black Dialect and Standard English through Storytelling, Poetry, Dialogue and Music”
  • Constance Shabazz, “So You Want to Publish a Book”


  • Grammy-nominated artist and producer Eric Roberson
  • Saxophonist David Boykins
  • Theatrical performer Maggie Brown, daughter of hip hop pioneer Oscar Brown Jr.
  • Ballroom Rock by BLAH BLAH BLAH
  • Kuumba Lynx, a traveling international performance ensemble
  • the Pegasus Theatre Group’s stage adaptation of Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage
  • R&B singer J. Daphaney

Princess McDowell is a poet, writer and journalist from Dallas, Texas, and Rebellious Magazine's Special Projects Editor. She's also a cohost of the Feminist Erotica Podcast. As a writer-in-rebellion,...

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