Kwame Mbalia, the keynote speaker for this year’s festival, is the New York Times best-selling author of the middle-grade Tristan Strong novels.

Word Craft

Black Ink, Charleston’s first and only festival dedicated to Black authors, will return virtually for its fifth year Jan. 14-16. As in previous years, Black Ink will focus on promoting Black authors and providing live discussions for writers interested in expanding their craft.
There are a few noticeable differences on the surface of this year’s Black Ink: The festival will be livestreamed, it’ll last three days and will provide a new list of topics to explore the publishing business for writers and readers. The decision to go virtual, according to Black Ink Committee Chair Djuanna Brockington, helped turn the festival into a “full-on conference, for lack of a better word.”

“[It] will be a series of workshops for readers, writers and just the general public, anyone who’s interested in books and writing and words and all the things around it,” she said.

Kwame Mbalia, the keynote speaker for this year’s festival, is the New York Times best-selling author of the middle-grade Tristan Strong novels. In the books, 7th-grader Tristan Strong goes on an interdimensional journey to save the world and his family. Along the way, he meets Black folk heroes and African gods while dealing with the fallout from past tragedy.

Mbalia told the City Paper he is honored to be involved in the festival, where his keynote speech will be titled, “Be a Sapper, Not a Gatekeeper.”

“I absolutely love the premise of Black Ink,” he said. “Talking about Black authors, Black books, writing about Black culture — this festival is exactly what I needed to start off 2021.”

Black Ink has also been able to expand its programming with the additional time and online format. Panels will discuss topics for writers and readers, such as marketing a project, how calls for diversity are changing publishing, advocating for Black voices and why relationships with local bookstores and libraries are crucial. The festival, Brockington said, is a space for Black writers to share their work with the public, and share resources on the craft and the business of writing with each other.

Other panelists include Charleston poet laureate Marcus Amaker, Southern Review of Books editor-at-large Shani Raine Gilchrist and Turning Page Bookshop owner VaLinda Miller.

Miller will be involved in a discussion titled “Looking Beyond Amazon,” which will look into the importance of authors building relationships with local bookstores and libraries.

“Even though this has been a year of Black-owned bookstores and so many African-American authors, it’s still a struggle to get your book out there because you’re not telling people about your book,” Miller said, encouraging writers to promote their book sales through independent bookstores.

Black Ink will kick off after a year where race and equity in America was a major topic of discussion, something that influenced Black Ink 2021 down to its theme: amplify Black voices.

“When folks have diversity in storytelling, when they get to experience someone else’s culture, there’s an appreciation for who they are, for who that group of individuals are as people,” Brockington said.
The festival, she added, can open more dialogue for Charleston on race and the Black experience in the city by simply including everyone’s story. “[Charleston] is beautiful, but it is an Antebellum city that literally was built by slaves,” Brockington said. “[Black people] helped create the beauty of this city, but that gets deemphasized … There is a way to amplify our history — by just speaking the truth of it.”

Black Ink Festival 2021 will take place virtually Jan. 14-16. For the full list of programs and info on the festival, head to blackinkcharleston.org.