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Barbershop Books Receives 2017 Innovations in Reading Prize

The National Book Foundation awards The 2017 Innovations in Reading Award to Barbershop Books

Congratulations to Harlem-based Barbershop Books!

The National Book Foundation awarded The 2017 Innovations in Reading Award to Barbershop Books, a community-based reading program that creates child-friendly reading spaces in barbershops.

Over the past 2 years, Barbershop Books has transformed 49 barbershops into community spaces that support positive early reading experiences for boys in 18 cities across 11 states.

Barbershop Books will receive a $10,000 prize and will be recognized at the second annual Why Reading Matters Conference on June 15.

Four organizations received honorable mention for the 2017 Innovations in Reading Prize are Books@Work (Shaker Heights, OH), the Great Reading Games (Princeton, NJ), Poetry in Motion (New York, NY), and Reach Out and Read (Boston, MA).

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The Why Reading Matters Conference 2017 Coming to NYC

The National Book Foundation’s Why Reading Matters Conference 2017 focuses on building a new audience for books

The National Book Foundation is hosting the Why Reading Matters Conference 2017 on Thursday, June 15, 2017, at the Frank Sinatra School of Arts in Long Island City, NY.

The theme this year is Why Reading Matters: Building a New Audience, and the conference will feature a full day of presentations focused on building a new audience for books.

Check www.nationalbook.org, for more information


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IMAGES Harlem Book Fair 2015

Phillis Wheatley Book Awards & Invitational Author Brunch

Too often, I fail to see the fuller reality of books and their co-creators. I invite you to join me as I look back at images of this year's Phillis Wheatley Awards and Invitational Authors Brunch, held during the Harlem Book Fair.

Books need us co-creators: From the people behind-the-scenes who hand out tickets and brochures... to those nearly hidden by books piled high on tables... to the many fashion-conscious book lovers who talk passionately about a favorite author or a must-read book – all the while animated by and through books!

Harlem Book Fair Images Phillis Wheatley Awards Ladies at Registration Table 2015Book lovers at the Phillis Wheatley Awards registration table. Photo Credit: Luvon Roberson

Harlem Book Fair Images Book Lovers in rapt attentionBook lovers rapt in attention. Photo Credit: Luvon Roberson

Harlem Book Fair Images Invitational Authors Brunch 2015Book lovers and authors at the Invitational Authors Brunch. Photo Credit: Luvon Roberson

Images show us how books come alive in and through us, their many co-creators.

Perhaps we can be guided by Max Rodriquez, founder of QBR Harlem Book Fair, who introduced the Invitational Author Brunch by saying: "We're more than writers. We're more than readers. We have intention, human intention."

Or, maybe we can heed acclaimed children's book illustrator Jerry Pinkney's remarks, made as he accepted this year's Phillis Wheatley Legacy Award: "Even after hundreds of books, I still find magic in the turning of the page."

Harlem Book Fair Images Phillis Wheatley Awards 2015 Award RecipientPoet Afaa Michael, accepting the Phillis Wheatley Award for Poetry. Photo Credit: Luvon Roberson

How is it that books not only offer us a private, individual experience; but also create in us a powerful community, even communal experience?

Books are magical. What does that make us, their co-creators?


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Author Sighting: Dave Chappelle Is Comedy Under Attack, Says Author Carl Unegbu

Comedy at First Sight

First, let me give you a word about how I came to comedy. A friend who's also a talented publicist introduced me to comedy and comedians by way of New York City clubs. My introduction to live, in-your-face comedy (aka standup) through Gordon Balkcom, opened up a whole new world – and way of seeing. So, when Gordon told me that an attorney who's also a comedy blogger had a new book, I was in! The book is Comedy Under Attack (ComedyBeat Books, 2013), by Carl Unegbu, whom I met at his book signing, held at Sisters Uptown Bookstore & Cultural Center.

Carl Unegbu: First Sighting @ Sisters Uptown Bookstore & Cultural Center

Whenever I travel uptown to Sisters Uptown Bookstore, I find myself entering the warm embrace of an African village (or what I imagine is such). Sun-drenched even in the winter months, Sisters Uptown Bookstore's book-lined space is filled with books about and by authors from the Africa Diaspora, along with African art, drums, crafts, jewelry, large plush armchairs, and even a shrine for quiet contemplation.

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Exterior (left) and Inside Sister's Book Store & Cultural Center. Photo Credit: Sisters Uptown Bookstore & Culture Center

The children's literature area has kid-size table and chairs, easy-to-reach books and rotating shelves with palm-size books and strands of colorful lanyards. Its café offers smoothies, muffins, tea, coffee, and cold drinks. I can settle into a comfy armchair with a book -- or, as I did on June 28th -- I can laugh my head off when comedians performed at Carl Unegbu's book signing!

Truth be told, Comedy Under Attack is no laughing matter. According to Unegbu, comedy is hurting, and he points to two major culprits: Political correctness (how corporate big business gets to decide what is and isn't "acceptable comedy") and joke-stealing, which he believes has dealt a mighty blow to standup comedy. To showcase the first culprit, he points to comic genius Dave Chappelle, who walked away from $50 million rather than serve corporate interests (more on Chappelle, below). Despite those headwinds, Unegbu believes this is the Golden Age of Comedy, and cites comedian Louis CK as leading the way for future generations of comedians in how to deal with corporate America.

Carl Unegbu: Second Sighting @Book Culture, Upper Westside

The next time I see Carl Unegbu is five months later, on November 20th. He's introducing ComedyBeat's, Comedy Dialogue series, at Book Culture. The series tackles the latest issues confronting the comedy industry. We're treated to a spirited conversation with comedian/filmmaker Tom McCaffrey (producer of the upcoming movie, This is Comedy) and comedian/storyteller Rob Cantrell, maker of the new comedy music album, Dreams Never Die (you probably know him from Last Comic Standing and Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn), among others.

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Carl Unegbu, author of Comedy Under Attack addressing an audience at Book Culture. Photo Credit: Luvon Roberson

Book Culture is a perfect fit for comedy – or anything that's a little off-kilter and quirky. It's a stone's throw from Columbia University and just steps from the world's largest gothic cathedral, St. John The Divine. I'm a longtime Book Culture fan, as much for its eclectic array of books, as for its one-of-a-kind writing desk. I think of that desk as magical. You'll have to visit and find out why!

My Favorite Author Quips & Snippets

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Carl Unegbu, author of Comedy Under Attack; with Sisters Uptown Bookstore Owner Janifer Wilson (center) and What's The 411TV Book Editor, Luvon Roberson (right). Photo Credit: Gordon Balkcom

Quips from Carl Unegbu, Author of Comedy Under Attack

"In a 2008 interview...[comedian David] Brenner said that comedy today is becoming run less like an art form and more like a business."

"Take the case of Dave Chappelle of Comedy Central's The Chappelle Show... This may be the only case in modern American show business in which an entertainer who was not insane walked away from the $50 million on the table and returned to the regular grind of the comedy club circuit."

"Chappelle reportedly said that his work on The Chappelle Show made him feel like a prostitute who was not doing things for the right reason.... Comedy Central's interest in Chappelle and his show clearly was not about his peace of mind or the best quality comedy he could produce. The network's interest obviously ran more to the money side of the equation."

BIO: Carl Unegbu

Carl Unegbu, author of Comedy Under Attack, is a lawyer and managing editor at Comedybeat.com. He studied journalism at Columbia after graduating law school at the University of Miami. His articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Africa Journal, World Policy Journal, the Journal of International Arbitration, The New York Review of Magazines, Reuters Forum Journal, Leverage Magazine, and New York County Lawyer. Prior to his admission to the New York Bar, Carl practiced law in Miami and served as a law clerk at the International Court of Arbitration in Paris.

AUTHOR SIGHTING with a COMEDY Theme: Brian Robinson

How to Meet Women on the Subway

by Brian Robinson


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Man on subway reading How to Meet Women on the Subway by Brian Robinson.

First Sighting: Toastmasters 2009 Annual Conference

As a former member of Toastmasters, I can recall being in the audience among hundreds of people who howled with laughter when then-single and footloose Brian Robinson took center stage at the Toastmasters Annual Conference in 2009, competing in the Humorous Contest. Robinson's tale of woe and disaster about how he tried to meet women on the New York City subway was, well, hilarious. And, I recall that when all the votes were tallied, he went on to win the Contest that year.

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Brian Robinson (center), author of How to Meet Women on the Subway, at his book launch at Bowlmor Lanes in Manhattan

Next Sighting: @ Bowlmor Lanes, Mid-town Manhattan

3-women-smiling Brian-Robinson How-to-Meet-Women-on-the-Subway website

Now, five years later, Brian Robinson is partying at Bowlmor Lanes, the fun-loving way he chose to launch his book How to Meet Women on the Subway (2014). Yes, the book is about the author's woeful yet laugh-til-you-holler encounters with women on the subway. Robinson, now married, did not meet his lovely bride Angie on the subway. That doesn't mean, however, that he didn't learn the best strategies for meeting women. Indeed, he met hundreds of women that way, according to his book. To find out which of those excellent strategies for meeting women he used when it came time for him to marry that special someone, I guess you'll need to read his book (or ask Angie)!


 My Favorite Author Quips & Snippets

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What's The 411TV Book Editor, Luvon Roberson, with Brian Robinson, author of How to Meet Women on the Subway, at book launch at Bowlmor Lanes in Manhattan. Photo: Luvon Roberson

Quips from Brian Robinson, author of How to Meet Women on the Subway.

"The NYC subway has over 600 miles of track and 468 stations. It's open 24 hours every single day of the year; it's cheap at only $5 a day. And, unlike dating sites – you can meet women in-person!"

"With millions of women on the subway every day, where's a better place to meet them than underground – under the streets of New York City?"

"Hey, you can multi-task on the subway: Meet women and get work done on your laptop!"

For these & other quips visit: www.howtomeetwomenonthesubway.com

BIO: Brian Robinson

There were three experiences that changed Brian's life: Selling encyclopedias door-to door in college; working for The Doe Fund, a non-profit dedicated to assisting formerly homeless men get back to work; and discovering at age 43 that he had attention deficit disorder (ADD).

These life-changing experiences taught Brian powerful lessons about persistence, hope, and humor -- themes that you will frequently hear in his workshops and keynotes.

Brian is an active member of The Temple of Restoration, Toastmasters International, and he lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Angie. The professional speaker and motivator is currently writing his second book, Get Back Up!

Prince, Lenny Kravitz and Other Music's Greats Coming to a Book Near You

There are several books about music’s greatest wonders coming out this autumn. Some of the books, we think you will want to know about are:

Prince Let-s-Go-CrazyLet’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain by Alan Light

Are you a Prince fan or know a Prince fan?

If so, then you may want to put Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain on your holiday shopping list.

Purple Rain is a song, an album, and a film—each one a commercial success and cultural milestone. How did this semi-autobiographical musical masterpiece that blurred R&B, pop, dance, and rock sounds come to alter the recording landscape and become an enduring touchstone for successive generations of fans? For the answer, check out Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain by Alan Light, an acclaimed music journalist and former senior editor of Rolling Stone; due out in December 2014.



Carlos SantanaThe Universal Tone: My Life by Carlos Santana

Legendary guitarist Carlos Santana is one of those rare artists whose music has an immense reach within the mainstream from '60s classic rock (the Abraxas album) to '90s commercial pop (the multiplatinum Supernatural).

In 1967 in San Francisco, just a few weeks after the Summer of Love, a young Mexican guitarist took the stage at the Fillmore Auditorium and played a blistering solo that announced the arrival of a prodigious musical talent. Two years later -- after he played a historic set at Woodstock -- the world came to know the name Carlos Santana, his sensual and instantly recognizable guitar sound, and the legendary band that blended electric blues, psychedelic rock, Latin rhythms, and modern jazz, and that still bears his name.

Carlos Santana documents his rise as one of rock's great guitarists and career highs in this forthcoming book, The Universal Tone: My Life, due out in November 2014.



Lenny-Kravitz resized 299x400Lenny Kravitz by Lenny Kravitz (with Anthony DeCurtis, Pharrell Williams and Marla Hamburg Kennedy)

Lenny Kravitz is the quintessential rock god: he has musical chops, glamorous style, and sex appeal for miles. Kravitz’s talents as a writer, producer, actor, and multi-instrumentalist are without question: he has won four consecutive Grammy Awards, setting a record for the most wins in the "Best Male Rock Vocal Performance" category, has sold more than thirty-eight million albums worldwide, and remains always in the public eye by appearing in blockbuster films.

This book, Lenny Kravitz, includes photographs spanning Kravitz’s time in the public eye, from his earliest days kicking around in New York City in the 1980s to traveling the world; from shots of Lenny composing in hotel rooms to performing in front of massive crowds; and from fashion shoots to intimate personal settings.

A visual celebration of one of rock’s sexiest, most magnetic stars, Lenny Kravitz, includes a conversation with Pharrell Williams. Lenny Kravitz illustrates the raw sensual power that has captivated his fans all over the world.

In stores and on Amazon now.



George-Benson resized 233x350Benson: The Autobiography by George Benson with Alan Goldsher

Over the course of his fifty-year career, George Benson has performed for hundreds of millions of fans around the world, received 10 Grammy Awards, and recorded with some of the most revered musicians of his era. In 2011, he earned a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Masters Award. And he has finally decided to tell his story.

An open and truthful storyteller, Benson discusses in Benson: The Autobiography, his near-arrest for domestic abuse, the tragic illnesses that afflicted his family, the secret lives of his musical cohorts, and racism’s effect on his life and art. His long-awaited book allows readers to meet one of the most beloved, prolific, and bestselling musicians of any era.

In stores and on Amazon now.



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Herbie Hancock: Possibilities by Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey

In Herbie Hancock: Possibilities, the legendary jazz musician and composer reflects on a life and a thriving career that has spanned seven decades. A true innovator, Herbie Hancock has had an enormous influence on both acoustic and electric jazz, R&B and hip-hop, with his ongoing exploration of different musical genres, winning fourteen Grammy awards along the way.

From his beginnings as a child prodigy to his work in Miles Davis’s second great quintet; from his innovations as the leader of his own groundbreaking sextet to his collaborations with everyone from Wayne Shorter to Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder; Herbie Hancock: Possibilities reveals the method behind Hancock’s undeniable musical genius.

Hancock shares his musical influences, colorful behind-the-scenes stories, his long and happy marriage, and how Buddhism inspires him creatively and personally. Honest, enlightening, and as electrifyingly vital as the man who wrote it, Herbie Hancock: Possibilities promises to be an invaluable contribution to jazz literature and a must-read for fans and music lovers.

In stores and on Amazon now.


Ol-Dirty-Bastard resized 232x350The Dirty Version: On Stage, In the Studio, and in the Streets with Ol’ Dirty Bastard by Buddha Monk and Mickey Hess

On the tenth anniversary of his death, The Dirty Version is the first biography of hip hop superstar and founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, to be written by someone from his inner circle: his right-hand man and best friend, Buddha Monk.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard rocketed to fame with the Wu-Tang Clan, the raucous and renegade group that altered the world of hip hop forever. ODB was one of the Clan’s wildest icons and most inventive performers, and when he died of an overdose in 2004 at the age of thirty-five, millions of fans mourned the loss. ODB lives on in epic proportions and his antics are legend: he once picked up his welfare check in a limousine; lifted a burning car off a four-year-old girl in Brooklyn; stole a fifty-dollar pair of sneakers on tour at the peak of his success. Many have questioned whether his stunts were carefully calculated or the result of paranoia and mental instability.

Now, Dirty’s friend since childhood, Buddha Monk, a Wu-Tang collaborator on stage and in the studio, reveals the truth about the complex and talented performer. From their days together on the streets of Brooklyn to the meteoric rise of Wu-Tang’s star, from bouts in prison to court-mandated rehab, from Dirty’s favorite kind of pizza to his struggles with fame and success, Buddha tells the real story—The Dirty Version—of the legendary rapper.

The Dirty Version: On Stage, In the Studio, and in the Streets with Ol’ Dirty Bastard is in stores and on Amazon in November 2014.


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Luvon Roberson

Luvon-Roberson Wine-Tour 411-website-bio-page 500x678Luvon Roberson is happiest when she's reading a book or talking about one. She gets to do both as What's The 411 Book Editor. The daughter of a single mom who worked the night shift, she and her sister were "latch-key" kids. She spent hours reading on her bed and writing stories and poems. And, so began her lifelong love of books and storytelling. What's The 411 marks Luvon's return to TV, after a much earlier stint at WTNH-TV as a field producer/researcher, which she nabbed by beating out 50 others for the job.

She then teamed up with now-writer Ifa Iyaun (whose sister is Ntozake Shange) to develop The Book Team Folklore Project for the New Haven Board of Education. From there, she headed to the University of London, for her first Master's degree, returning to the US two years later to begin Ph.D. studies in the anthropology department at Columbia University. Zora Neale Hurston, her favorite novelist-folklorist-anthropologist, studied in the same department. Leaving Columbia with her second Master's, she moved to a focus on books and writing: She was an Associate Editor at NASW Publications, taught English literature to gifted students of color in the acclaimed Prep for Prep program, and taught Journal Writing to adult students at The College of New Rochelle. Then she began a long career in public relations, ranging from NYC's iconic Howard J. Rubenstein agency to global giant Omnicom, where she was a Senior Vice President at Fleishman-Hillard.

Among her recent adventures with books and writing, Luvon lists: Columnist, features writer, copy editor at Harlem News; book reviewer at ThoughtGallery.org; facilitator of book talks, literary-Biblical classes, and coordinator of large-scale book events for hundreds at The Riverside Church. Luvon is especially grateful to Gloria Steinem and NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray for using their skills as writers and their national and global visibility to showcase a new book, Breaking Through: 2014 Anthology from the Next Generation of Woman Writers. Luvon is the copy editor of Breaking Through and volunteers with Girls Write Now.

She calls herself "bookish," and reads at least one book each week. She's currently reading three books – Harlem Nocturne, by Farah Jasmine Griffin; My Secret History, by Paul Theroux; and – for the fourth time -- Moses, Man of the Mountain, by Zora Neale Hurston. Luvon belongs to three book clubs. And, she will accept all invitations to visit your book club! She wants to know what you're reading...What's The 411 on your bookshelf, Nook, or Kindle?

THE LAST KING: A Battle Between God and the Edenites

What happens when you eat from the Tree of Life and gain immortality?

Well, God gets very, very angry with you!

And, that's just the beginning of the battle between God and the Edenites in a new book, THE LAST KING, by first-time novelist, A. Yamina Collins.

WATCH VIDEO: Interview with THE LAST KING author, A. Yamina Collins

Caught between God and the Edenites is Emmy, a 6-foot tall African American woman and unsuspecting mortal, living in -- of all places -- Lake George, New York. Then, there's Gilead, an Edenite --standing 6'7' and gorgeous by anyone's definition. He's a doctor, lives in a mansion, plays polo, and has a panther as a pet. Another thing: he's lived for at least three centuries. And, his brother Markus is white. The two men, however, happen to share the same height and profession. Well, sort of.

Emmy, Gilead, and Markus – along with a few dozen other characters – make up the world created by author A. Yamina Collins.

Yamina Collins recently stopped by What's The 411's studio home, BRIC Arts Media House, to chat with me about her new sci-fi romance novel, THE LAST KING, an e-book, being released in monthly episodes/volumes. Ms. Collins not only imagines a uniquely populated world in upstate New York of unaware mortals co-existing with exotic animals and sword-wielding immortals who ride in chariots, but she also has imagined who these characters might be – if they came to life in our world -- in the "real" world.

She shared with me that she imagines "Emmy" as Lupita Nyong'o, the Academy Award-winning actress who starred in 12 Years a Slave. Instead of Ms. Nyong'o's signature close-crop natural, as "Emmy," the actress sports jazz musician and vocalist Esperanza Spalding's trademark looser-curl natural.

"Gilead" in her view might be played by two-time Academy Award-winner, actor, producer, and director Denzel Washington, but about 30 years ago, when he starred in the TV hit drama St. Elsewhere (1982-1988).

"Markus," the brother of "Gilead," could be Chris Hemsworth, the Australian actor we cheered for in blockbuster movies like Thor and The Avengers.

SPOILER ALERT: Ms. Collins also let me know that she will introduce many other characters in upcoming episodes of THE LAST KING, and that, in addition to Markus, Gilead has 19 other family members! She reveals a few other spoilers in our interview. So, LAST KING fans, watch and listen!

THE LAST KING is in top-100 Amazon best-sellers list in Fantasy, Sci Fi, Women's Fiction Literature, and Christian Women's Literature. More than 15,000 monthly visitors stop by Yamina's blog, yaminatoday.com, to check in on the latest episode/volume of THE LAST KING. You can also find her on Twitter @yaminatoday.

A graduate of New York University, Ms. Collins resides in New York City and is the author of THE BLUEBERRY MILLER FILES, a quirky collection of short stories.

P.S. After the interview, Ms. Collins and I, along with What's The 411 producer, Ruth J. Morrison, celebrated the author's 8/23 birthday. Reaching in the large birthday bag, filled with objects based on themes in THE LAST KING, Ms. Collins immediately placed the fur-trimmed sparkling pink tiara on her head. She then pulled out the plastic sword, brandishing it in true swashbuckling style. I think Emmy and Gilead would've been proud!

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From Left to Right: A. Yamina Collins, Author, THE LAST KING; Ruth J. Morrison, CEO, What's The 411 Networks; Luvon Roberson, Book Editor, What's The 411


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