Black authors expo uplifts writers, promotes healing through storytelling

People table in a bright school gym
The Minnesota Black Authors Expo featured dozens of local Black authors at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis on Saturday.
Feven Gerezgiher | MPR News

The sound of djembe and dunun drums reverberated down the halls of DeLaSalle High School on Saturday, emanating from a gym packed with Black storytellers.

It was center of the Minnesota Black Authors Expo, where dozens of Black Minnesota authors showcased their books. At the front stage, writers read excerpts and community historians shared stories accompanied by a “heartbeat,” drumming by members of the Black Storytelling Alliance.

The theme this year was “Dreaming in Color: Telling Our Stories to Save Our Lives.”

“We can only get as big as our dreams are, so we really want to encourage not just children, but adults to dream bigger than they ever have,” said Dorothy Nins, executive director of the Minnesota Black Authors Expo.

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The expo started in 2017, first hosted at the NEON building in north Minneapolis. Attendance has quadrupled over the years, according to Nins. Saturday’s event marked its first in-person expo since the start of the pandemic.

Genres spanned the spectrum — children’s books, Afrofuturist novels, comics, memoirs and more. Workshops for adult and teen writers of all backgrounds aimed to foster talent.

It also featured oral storytelling with Gary Hines, director of acclaimed musical ensemble The Sounds of Blackness, speaking to its essence.

“Music has never just been about art. Music has been and is about life. Every aspect of life: birth, death, marriage, politics, war, peace, education. Music has always been the lifeblood of African people,” Hines said.

People sit in chairs in a circle
Representatives from George Floyd Square discuss telling their stories and the stories of their south Minneapolis neighborhood at the Minnesota Black Authors Expo at DeLaSalle High School.
Feven Gerezgiher | MPR News

Stewards of George Floyd Square led a story circle in the late afternoon exchanging examples of how storytelling around the site of Floyd’s murder — and beyond — serves as a healing space for people without platforms.

“Our model is transforming street energy into community energy, and really putting the neighbor back into the neighborhood,” said Marquise Bowie, a creative writer and representative of the Agape movement, public safety advocates at the square.

The Minnesota Black Authors Expo partnered with the Black Storytelling Alliance after the recent passing of Nothando Zulu, “to uphold what she left,” according to Nins.

Zulu’s grandchildren Joshua “Brotha Ase” Gillespie and Mariama Imani drummed throughout the event, taking breaks to chat with others.

They called the expo liberating.

“They’re pouring life into us,” Gillespie said.