As the author of “Little Lumpy’s Book of Blessings, ” Reverend Leah Lewis is no stranger to the publishing path – and she founded the Great Lakes African American Writers’ Conference to help make sure others don’t get burned along the way.
Rev. Dr. Leah Lewis (photo credit: Vince Robinson)Lewis was in part inspired by a colleague who was commissioned by a publisher to send his literature and that they would add the finishing touches to his book. When a final copy of the book was returned, everything was misspelled.
“I was told that this woman paid around $ 5,000,” Dr. Lewis said. “When she received copies of the book and read what was printed, she was heartbroken. I was mortified by this story and hurt for her that she had been mistreated in this way.
Lewis then founded the GLAAWC conference in 2018 with a mission to provide information and ideas from leading industry professionals. “We want to give writers information and understanding about the publishing industry and the art of literature,” says Lewis.
Local writers like Michelle Fay can warmly attest to this. Fay says her attendance at the conference motivated her to take part in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge, and now a first draft of her memoir is complete.
Snapshots from the 2019 Great Lakes African American Writers‘ Conference (photo credit: Vince Robinson)“I wouldn’t have passed the challenge without the support, encouragement and confidence I received from my talented cohort,” says Fay. “GLAAWC has great personal value because it helped me fulfill a long-held dream of writing a book. I will never forget the pleasure of presenting my work in a room filled with aspiring authors and various industry representatives.
The component of this year’s conference will take place from Friday October 1 to Sunday October 3. Award-winning fiction writer Deesha Philyaw will be in conversation with high school and college students about the art of writing, and she with Jack Jones Literary Arts Founder Kima Jones will deliver keynote addresses. Writer and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson will sing the black national anthem. Topics for the panel include mental health in the African American community, the importance of diversity in children’s literature, and the process of producing literary works.
For the second year in a row, the conference will be held virtually, but previously the event was held at East Cleveland Public Library. According to Lewis, ECPL and the Cleveland Foundation were of paramount importance in building the success of GLAAWC and establishing a presence for the conference. “At the time [we started], there hadn’t really been any organization or event that specifically addressed the African-American experience and African-American literature, ”says Lewis.
Snapshots from the 2019 Great Lakes African American Writers’ Conference (photo credit: Vince Robinson)As a sponsor of the event, the Cleveland Foundation has built a stronger alliance with GLAAWC through its Cleveland Book Week initiative that coincides with the event. “Becoming a city known for the growth of its writers doesn’t happen overnight,” says Karen Long, director of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, of the joint effort to strengthen Cleveland’s literary presence. “But Manhattan no longer has a lock on English publishing culture; editing and writing can take place anywhere.
Along with GLAAWC, Lewis also directs Little Lumpy Center for Educational Initiatives, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve literacy among youth and adults in Cleveland by hosting events like GLAAWC. In the future, Lewis hopes to forge institutional partnerships throughout the Great Lakes region. “It means finding a foundation in a city that is willing to fund and support the work of their literary artists – to support their participation in GLAAWC,” says Lewis.
Overall, Lewis hopes to expand his reach as much as possible to empower and uplift the work of African American writers: “I want people to be inspired creatively, artistically, but I also want them to have a better understanding. the publishing industry and what is needed to break into the field and realistically set their expectations. “
To find out more or to register for the 3rd annual GLAAWC 2021 virtual conference, click on here.
This article was written as part of the “Now That’s Fresh” series in partnership with Literary Cleveland. This six-week course helps emerging journalists learn about the reporting process and get published for the first time.