It always amazes me when I read headlines about kids not reading any more. As someone who travels to library and international book fairs for a living, I’ve seen teens line up for hours to meet their favorite authors, or run through a convention center trying to nab an ARC or poster from a series they love. I’ve seen kids look at a brand new book with tears in their eyes, and tell me about how much they adore reading and in some cases, would love to write a book themselves one day. My trip to Cuba was no exception. If anything, it only intensified my belief that reading among kids is not only not dead, it’s thriving.
As I set up our display, made up of books from 40 US publishers (a first in Cuba), I was asked, begged, even bribed for some of these books. They were only for display, but trust me, it was hard not to give them all away (I might’ve given away a few I’m not a monster.)
“We don’t get those books here,” one of the girls told me.
“I would love to be able to read this. I wouldn’t find this book anywhere here,” said one teen with his eye on a book about the NY Yankees.
I met an author who asked me what I write about. I told her, “Witches in the 1980s.” And she replied, “I write about werewolves in the 1990s!” We both squealed a lot after that.
A gif of the line to the Mexican Pavilion. The video goes on for a few minutes!
Next door, the Mexican Pavilion had a line that went to the other side of the square and around the corner. And that line didn’t go away for the three days we visited the Havana Book Fair. I suspect it was there for the whole ten days of the event. And guess what? It was mostly kids. They were excited to get new books, like One Direction fandom on Tumblr excited, okay? It was intense, and awesome. I wished we could share our books with them. That they could read the thousands of amazing books by authors in the States, and that in that exchange we could maybe learn a little more about one another.
I’m not the kind of person to get political online (because I’m not the kind of person who likes strangers yelling at her online) but surely, we can get together to make sure these kids, and their parents, get access to the books they pored over at our stand. I’m proud to be among the first to sign the petition to allow US books into Cuba, and I hope you’ll help out with this cause and add your name to the list. Also I am pretty sure I’ve never asked you guys for anything before so, you owe me.
More About the US Mission to Cuba
In February 2016, a delegation of approximately 40 American publishing industry representatives met with their publishing counterparts in Havana, Cuba. The two days of meetings, held with the support of the Cuban government, represented an historic milestone. Its purpose was to build bridges of understanding and explore opportunities for greater cultural and economic collaboration.
The American delegates included authors, publishers, distributors, literary agents, service providers, consultants, and independent booksellers. Cuba was represented by officials from the Cuban Book Institute, the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Writers Association, as well as Cuban authors, publishers, academics, and students.
We know President Obama wants the economic embargo lifted, yet Congress isn’t yet on board. We also know, as documented at https://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/foreign-policy/cuba the President has already exercised his executive powers to make special accommodations and exceptions to the trade embargo. We know the American people are on board. According to a Pew study last year (http://www.people-press.org/2015/07/21/growing-public-support-for-u-s-ties-with-cuba-and-an-end-to-the-trade-embargo/), 72% of Americans are in favor of lifting the economic embargo against Cuba, and fully 59% of Republicans are in favor.
With recent actions taken by the President to reestablish political relations and lift travel restrictions, with the American overwhelmingly supportive, and especially with President Obama’s historic state visit to Cuba this coming March 21-22, we believe the time is right to call for special accommodations for books considering the critical role books play in freedom of expression and economic development.