Interview: Harlem’s Max Rodriguez Harlem Book Fair

July 4, 2010

Max RodriguezBy Janee Nesbitt

Max Rodriguez is the founder and publisher of QBR The Black Book Review, a national literature review that focuses on authors in the African Diaspora. He is the founder and director of Harlem Book Fair (HBF), the nation’s largest African-American book festival and publisher of HBF publishing, who collaborates with Author Solutions, Inc., to target African-American and Latino readers and writers. With the up and coming Harlem Book Fair on July 17th, I sat down and interviewed Mr. Rodriguez on hot humid day in Harlem.

Janee Nesbitt: Where are you originally from?

Max Rodriguez: I was born in Brooklyn. My family is originally from Puerto Rico but I was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

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JN: Where did you go to college?

MR: Rutgers University in New Jersey

JN: What was your major?

MR: English

JN: What is your favorite book? Favorite author?

MR: My favorite book is a book called A Course in Miracles. The authors decided not to release their names because they wanted it to be about the book not them.

JN: Why did you choose to advocate for African-American literature?

MR: We have rich stories and rich histories. Ours is a history of trial and overcoming odds. It’s a great story, a great human story.

JN: What lead to you starting QBR: The Black Book Review? The Harlem Book Fair?

MR: I started The Black Book Review because I was always looking for and never found information about Black books and I could never find a source that could give information. I started the Harlem Book Fair because there was no events that celebrated our stories.

JN: What is the goal of HBF publishing?

MR: To help bring authors to publish, to help bring more black voices to publish not only through publishing but also through workshops and seminars that show how to publish with a profit.

JN: Where did the theme of “Women in Word and Power” come from?

MR: It came from women, all they do and what they do for us. They created it from who they are, we are just acknowledging it.

JN: There are so many women in literature to choose from. How and why were the Women of Word and Power chosen? Why was Sonia Sanchez chosen for a featured tribute?

MR: That is a great question because as you said there are so many. They were selected both for their talent and contribution. We also wanted to honor Ama Ata Aidoo but we won’t able to bring her in from Ghana, so geography and availability also factors in.

JN: The Harlem Book Fair has been going on for 12 years, what elements have worked and what haven’t?

MR: What was fun but didn’t work as well was the gospel stage but we replaced it with Christian’s Authors On Tour. So we get to keep the Christian element in the event but Christian’s Authors fits more with the Harlem Book Fair Event.

JN: What do you see for the Harlem Book Fair in the future?

MR: We want to keep adding conversations from the Diaspora. We are having New York New Africa and Afro-Canadian this year. We want to keep building the Caribbean conversation. This year we have new literacy partners in the NAACP, New York Urban League and the United Negro College Fund are all community partners. So they give powerful additions to the African American experience.

JN: I was looking at the Harlem Book Fair Program & Schedule and was wondering, why you choose to use the Adinkra symbol for independence (Fawohodie) as the divider between events listed?

MR: Wow, I’m impressed. I can bet you will be the only one to catch that.

JN: Thank You

MR: That symbol represents independence in all it’s versions; freedom of speech, freedom of point of view. Not to say we are not of America but we have point of view that needs to be expressed. It represents both our independence and our relationship with our world around us.

JN: What do you think is a genre where African-American authors have not populated?

MR: I don’t think that we have sufficiently entered the spirit thinking arena and also the business arena. Those spaces are held by a couple of people. What is also missing is the sequel to Roots, what book will continue our history. It makes a statement that our history ended with Roots.

JN: What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking to become published?

MR: I would make sure that they understand that like anything else a book is a product that enters a market. It takes more than a good story to make a good book. A question that writers should ask themselves is whether their book is marketable?

The Harlem Book Fair will take place on Saturday, July 17th
Where: 7th and 8th ave 135th street
When: 11am to 6pm

To see the list of events and times go to

Harlem World is a media sponsor of the 2010 Harlem Book Fair.

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