National Book Foundation Awards Annual $10,000 ‘Innovations in Reading Prize’ to Alvin Irby and Barbershop Books

Alvin Irby crouches next to the Barbershop Books mini library at Levels Barbershop in Brooklyn, New York.

Organized to support community efforts that encourage reading, the National Book Foundation held its 2nd annual Why Reading Matters conference June 15 at The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Long Island City, and awarded its annual $10,000 Innovations in Reading Prize to Alvin Irby, founder of Barbershop Books, a program that encourages young black boys to read.

The conference keynote was delivered by novelist and now bookstore owner Emma Straub, who gave a entertaining address about how she and her husband became novice bookstore owners, opening the Books Are Magic bookstore in Brooklyn in April of this year.

Straub told the audience “A year ago I didn’t know I would have a store,” and went on to describe her efforts to open a store after Book Court, her neighborhood bookstore, closed in 2016. She praised the help of other Brooklyn booksellers, like Word’s Christine Onorati, who she “texted a 100 times a day about how to do everything,” as well as other author/booksellers like Ann Patchett.

Straub said she took on the challenge of teaching herself to be a business person because, “We didn’t want to live in a neighborhood that didn’t have a bookstore. We want Books Are Magic to be a part of the daily life of the neighborhood.”:

National Book Foundation executive director Lisa Lucas said the Why Reading Matters event is intended “to invite everyone to get together and talk about new ways to engage readers.” Lucas explained that NBF programs aren’t about the mechanics of teaching people how to read. “We’re not the spinach, we’re the dessert,” she said laughing. “We’re here to get people excited about reading.”

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SOURCE: Publishers Weekly
Calvin Reid