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Albany Book Fest Returns - Brings Diversity With It

Updated: Oct 22, 2019

By JACKIE ORCHARD

Photo Credit: Jackie Orchard / ASP (author/illustrator Ambika Sambasivan)


Who doesn’t love that new book smell?

The campus center was buzzing with conversation last Saturday as people from all over Albany meandered from table to table, feasting their eyes on rows and rows of brightly colored books.


Photo Credit: Jackie Orchard / ASP (campus center atrium during book fest)

The second annual Albany Book Festival featured renowned authors such as Joyce Carol Oates and Jamaica Kincaid, but just as fascinating were the lesser known authors who are eager to get their work out into the world. People such as author/illustrator Ambika Sambasivan.

Her table, displaying Yali Books, promotes authors from Southeast Asia in the United States.

“There’s been this movement called, ‘We need diverse books,’” says Sambasivan. “And so there’s been a lot of talk about getting more diversity and getting authors of color.”

Yali Books is a small press, but they’re focused on finding authors who are not well represented in the mainstream.

Sambasivan holds up a book she did not write, but loves very much: Brave With Beauty, a Story of Afghanistan by Maxine Rose Schur.

“This is historical fiction for kids and it’s a story about Afghanistan,” says Sambasivan. “It’s a difficult story to tell but we can take the risk as a small press.”

The cover of the book shows a woman in a headdress holding a paintbrush with curling artwork crawling up the spine.


Photo Credit: Jackie Orchard / ASP

“It’s about a queen in the 15th century,” says Sambasivan.

Sambasivan says the queen did exist but very little is known about her life. This children’s book brings to life a female role-model from Afghanistan, a character with heritage that young girls do not often see.

“She was incredible because she used her position to commission mosques and colleges and libraries which is very unusual for a queen to do back then,” Sambasivan says. “It’s an incredible story and we are very proud.”

Sambasivan came to the book festival to promote Yali Books because she feels that every child, from every background, deserves to read books that represent their culture.

Mary Margaret Gavin, senior, came to the event with three of her friends from Alphi Phi Omega.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Gavin says. “It’s nice to see all the local authors, it’s fun to see that they’re just like regular people.”


Photo Credit: Jackie Orchard / ASP (UAlbany volunteers at Albany book festival in Campus Center atrium)

Gavin did not come to the event last year, but says she would definitely recommend it to friends and people with children.

“The stuff with the kids is very fun,” Gavin says. “There’s a whole room dedicated to kids events. The Albany Public Library mascot, Bleeker, came through. There’s kid yoga, too.”

When Gavin and her friends saw Jamaica Kincaid, they were all a little star-struck.

“I was like, ‘oh my God, that’s her.’” says Gavain. “It’s so cool.”

Gavin says if you’re thinking about coming next year, you should.

“Try to see everything,” Gavin says. “Say hello to everyone, and just get the full experience.”

For more information on authors like Ambika Sambasivan, you can visit NYSwritersinstitute.org.