Houston's 1st BIPOC Book Festival spotlights diverse books, characters, and authors

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston journalists Jaundrea Clay, Brittany Britto Garley, and Brooke Lewis wanted to provide a solution to a problem they experienced as young girls and continue to see in their work.

Covering issues impacting underrepresented communities inspired them to host the city's first-ever BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Book Festival.

Clay said the idea started when she shared with Garley that she always dreamed of opening her own bookstore, featuring Black and brown writers. Garley then suggested turning the concept into a festival and then recruited Lewis to join them. All three met while working for Houston Chronicle. Now, Clay is the editor for their HouWeAre newsletter, Garley is the editor of Eater Houston, and Lewis is a freelance writer who is working on her first book.

"When we were kids, we rarely saw characters that look like us," said Clay. "One of the things that were most startling is characters of color aren't so mainstream, like, white kind of becomes the default and you don't even recognize it. Even when the characters weren't described, I would imagine them in my head as being white. I realized there is a whole other world out here and I needed to expand my imagination."

"Media representation is so important. As a young kid, I remember those first glances into whatever you read. It shaped who you are as an individual. Only recently into adulthood have I found more authors that are representative of my life experience," said Lewis. "With this festival, I'm hoping kids will walk in, see a book that really looks like them and reflect their own experience, and find hope and light in that."

According to a New York Times analysis of 7,000 books between 1950 and 2018, 95% were written by white authors. A survey of approximately 3,300 books conducted by the Cooperative Children's Book Center in 2020, showed that children's books were similarly skewed toward white audiences.

"We're providing a space where we can have these open conversations about these very topics -- banned books, critical race theory -- that continue to highlight the news and we're not going to censor the conversation," said Lewis. It's going to be open and honest, because it's crucial and it's needed."



On Tuesday morning, organizers posted on Twitter that Katy ISD had blocked their events website from student access. The district made headlines last winter for its controversial bans on books featuring diverse and LGBTQ+ characters. ABC13 asked officials about this and their spokesperson, Maria Corrales DiPetta responded with:

"Since this was a brand new website, it had not gone through the review process by the Districts website filtering system. The District manually reviewed the website and it is currently unblocked and accessible to Katy ISD students and staff."

Meanwhile, Clay and Lewis said they're focused on making the festival's inaugural year a success. They hope to make this an annual event and maybe even one day expand to pop-ups in other cities.

"More conversations about diversity in the literary space is needed, not just across Houston, but across the country. But I think Houston is such a good starting place because Houston really does look like America," said Lewis.

The two-day event will take place this weekend. Saturday's event at Buffalo Soldiers Museum will be focused on adult and teen readers. The admission price is $10. Sunday's free Little BIPOC Book Fest will be geared towards children at Smither Park.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit the BIPOC Book Festivals website.

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