Five Questions for Librarian Akunna Eneh

Akunna Eneh is programs & community outreach librarian for the Roxbury Branch of the Boston Public Library, one of the hosts of the Greater Roxbury Book Fair. This FREE community event takes place on Saturday, May 20, 2023, from 12–5pm. 

1. Your title is Programs & Community Outreach Librarian. What does your job look like day-to-day? 

Akunna Eneh: On a regular day, I am actually on the library floor, helping with reference, booking library space for community use, and helping folks on the computer. I also help maintain the adult collection at the Roxbury Branch, both fiction and nonfiction. In addition, when I have time at my desk, I am planning some self-initiated programming — like my book club Roxbury Reads! — or planning programming with other organizations and local authors/performers.

The latter is where much of my outreach comes into play. I may organize a program with community partners that will happen outside of the library, like the reading and discussion series I am currently helping to facilitate at the UU Urban Ministry program at the First Church of Roxbury; or inside the library, such as the Greater Roxbury Book Fair.

2. How did the Greater Roxbury Book Fair idea get started?

AE: I remember it being an idea floating around among community partners for the last few years. Starting in 2018, myself, Frugal Bookstore owners Leonard and Clarrissa Edgerton, The American City Coalition, and others in the Roxbury neighborhood worked directly with the Boston Book Festival to host a Roxbury edition of the BBF. These were successful events, largely modeled off the annual BBF event in Copley Square. As time went on, however, those of us in the community felt we could do more to boost the profile of local authors and literary talent. We realized we could organize within the community, among ourselves, to get that done.

TACC already had a model for promoting community talent via their outdoor event series Savor the Square. From spring to early fall, Savor the Square invites local vendors/artists/entrepreneurs to vend or table outdoors once a month. Our group chose May in order to help build momentum for Boston Public School's Summer Reading in addition to highlighting local authors. 

We were so lucky to be able to recruit Gina Gagliano to the project as our Project Manager. Her freelance work has put her in touch with so many publishers and literary organizations and that helped with outreach. She is also a phenomenal planner!

We started planning in January or February of this year, so it's been a tight turnaround. But I think we have put together a program that will be engaging for multiple ages and fun.

3. What part of the Book Fair are you most excited about? 

AE: There are a few things! I am excited that the program we put together really does highlight our local literary talent and draws attention to BPS Summer Reading in an exciting way. Local Hot 96.9 radio host and bibliophile Pebbles will be reading BPS Summer Reading picture book selections in a special storytime. Comics in Color author and artist L-J Baptiste will host a hands-on workshop on character creation. And our keynote is Carlos Hernandez, author of the magical Sal & Gabi Break the Universe, which is a middle school book selection from the BPS Summer Reading list. He will be visiting a few Roxbury schools on Friday and then coming to the Roxbury Branch on Saturday. There are so many ways for people to engage with reading, writing, and creating and there are local authors and creators to look up to. 

4. Your library recently underwent renovation. What’s your favorite space there (new or old)?

AE: I have to say I miss the dedicated space we used to have to display art in our old lobby area. Artists, known or unknown, would ask to display their work and would get noticed by others in the community. That said, I do like the alcove area where our African American Collection is housed. It's close to the entrance, gets wonderful sunlight, and recently has been graced by an original piece by local artist Sobek. You can take a look at it here

5. What’s on your TBR pile?

AE: I'm pretty sure I'll forget something, but here are some:

  • Rest Is Resistance by Tricia Hersey
  • When We Make It by Elisabet Velasquez — and every poem she has ever written!
  • Voices of a People's History of the United States in the 21st Century: Documents of Hope and Resistance edited by Anthony Arnove and Haley Pessin — it's an updated edition of the original companion to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and I can't wait to see what voices have been included.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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