If we are to believe much of what we've read in both the popular media and trade publications in recent years, the "printed word" is already an anachronism, and physical presence of books in our homes and libraries the 21st century equivalent of saint's bones in a medieval reliquary.
All around us are headlines heralding the digitization of literature; the collapse of traditional business models for literary publishing and bookselling; and the emergence of multibillion-dollar online retailers like Amazon and technology companies like Apple and Google as dominant players in the publishing world. So who might imagine that a celebration of small and independent presses; idiosyncratic booksellers; and publishers of innovative fiction, feminist literary magazines and self-described "weird little books" would turn into a major regional showcase for an aesthetic that favors the handmade over the wireless, and the revival of the tactile "book arts" as a cultural counterweight to the transubstantiation of books into the digital "cloud"? (And, held in one of our nation's poorest and most disparaged cities on the very last day of a long and soul-crushing winter, nonetheless.)
Over the past five years, the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair -- which is taking place from noon to 6 p.m. today in the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, 453 Porter Ave. -- has grown into this community's cultural Rite of Spring and the literary analog to the mid-summer, performance-oriented Buffalo Infringement Festival. Both events are sprawling, opened-ended, under-capitalized but heroically curated expressions of the "do-it-yourself / bring your own inspiration" ethos that has (in the absence of patronage or public support) become the default mode for artistic productions in this community.
Following Friday night's event-opening reading featuring three leading poet/publishers -- Matvei Yankelevich from Brooklyn's acclaimed Ugly Duckling Presse, Rebecca Wolff from Albany's Fence Booksand Adam Robinson of Baltimore's Publishing Genius -- in the Western New York Book Art Center on Washington Street, the exhibit portion of the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair continues this afternoon in the main concourse of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum. It features a record 110 vendors from throughout Western New York, Southern Ontario, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York City, New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.
What can you expect to find among the exhibitors? Every kind of book trade-related activity imaginable, from individual authors selling their books, to booksellers displaying their new arrivals, small presses marketing their spring catalog of publications, book artists and bookmakers showcasing their crafts, poets, graphic artists and musicians selling their book-related creations, and zinesters doing whatever it is that they do to promote their zealous zine-ing.
Running concurrent with the fair in the museum's upstairs meeting room are a series of free workshops intended to serve as useful introductions to a number of book arts-related topics ranging from "Zoetropes and Analog Animation" (featuring staff from Squeaky Wheel: Buffalo Media Resources at 2:30 p.m.) to the perennially popular "Copyright, Fair Use and other Legal Issues" (featuring Buffalo-based intellectual property attorney Steven Fox at 4 p.m.).
Admission to the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair remains free, and it is open to the general public. Last year's event drew more than 2,000 attendees, and based solely on the vendor list and networking opportunities for area writers and and book enthusiasts, an even larger crowd is expected today.
If you have questions about the fair, or need directions, visit the event website.
If you have questions about participating in next year's fair, contact event co-founder and current organizer Chris Fritton (beginning Monday) at email@example.com.