The National Antiracist Book Festival is going virtual this year, and a Gainesville bookstore will be taking part for the first time.
Third House Books will be one of 33 bookstores across the country owned by people of color to partner with the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. The Center was founded by Dr. Ibram Kendi, a former University of Florida professor and author of “How To Be an Antiracist.”
After the second annual festival was canceled last year due to the pandemic, this year’s festival will be held virtually on Saturday.
Jemar Tisby, the assistant director of narrative and advocacy for the center, said regardless of whether the festival is in person or virtual, the goal remains to bring together the nation’s leading antiracist writers.
“The breadth of authors that we can bring together nationally is really facilitated by the fact that it’s online,” he said.
Each of the 33 bookstores is partnered with a different panel discussion throughout the day. Third House Books’ panel is “On A New America,” which features New York Times bestselling author Heather McGhee and Princeton professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
McGhee’s book, “The Sum Of Us,” is an exploration of how racism and white supremacy have shaped the American economic system. Glaude explored the work of writer and activist James Baldwin in his book, “Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own.”
Other notable panelists include Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, activist Linda Sarsour and researcher Brené Brown. Tisby added there will be writers’ workshops to help develop the next generation of antiracist authors.
Heather Halak, the owner of Third House Books, said as a Latina business owner, she experiences racism operating her store. After moving online last March, Halak said she’s received hateful comments for her displays of solidarity and activism. She said it’s easier to deal with a customer being insensitive in real life than on the internet.
“When it’s on social media, you can’t just turn it off,” she said.
Last year’s summer of racial unrest resulted in Third House Books seeing a large rise in demand for antiracist literature, Halak said, including “How To Be an Antiracist.”
Independent Bookstore Day also happens to fall on Saturday. To deal with the expected increase in traffic, Halak will try to get a friend to help out handling online orders. She said both events, if they occurred on separate days, would be the business’ biggest days of the year.
“All in one day, it’s gonna be a little chaotic,” she said.
Halak said she plans to reopen Third House Books to the public by late summer. She looks forward to interacting with customers again, introducing them to the book for which they’ve been waiting.
At the first Antiracist Book Festival in 2019, Tisby took part as a panelist. He recalled similar feelings of connection from meeting fellow authors in person.
“One of the pleasant surprises was a sense of community, that you were with other like-minded people from around the country,” he said.
Recreating that sense of community virtually will be difficult, but Tisby said he’s hopeful the event will still be as informative as possible and help build momentum toward future in-person festivals.
Tickets for each individual panel and workshop cost $10, while an all-access ticket for the entire day costs $250.