Today I’m talking to Brenda Knight, the current president of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA), San Francisco Chapter. WNBA was established in 1917, several years before American women had the right to vote. Brenda is a twenty-year publishing veteran who started out at HarperCollins, and the founding editor of Viva Editions, a division of Cleis Press. A writer as well as an editor, she has authored the American Book Award-winning Women of the Beat Generation, Rituals for Life and Wild Women and Books; and has worked with many bestselling authors including Mark Nepo, Phil Cousineau, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, and Paolo Coehlo. In her spare time (and it’s amazing she has any!), she volunteers for the American Cancer Society as a counselor for the newly diagnosed and leads writing workshops entitled “Putting Your Passion on Paper.”
Mary: Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Brenda. I understand that October is WNBA’s National Reading Group Month, and that on October 8th, the San Francisco Chapter is sponsoring an event at Books Inc, connected with San Francisco Litquake entitled Ghost, Bones, and Dust: Novels of Life and Death. That’s an intriguing title, but before we get to Ghost, Bones, and Dust, could you please tell us more about WNBA?
Brenda: WNBA is broad-based, non-profit organization with individual chapters in twelve cities plus individual members scattered across the country. There are numerous corporate Sustaining Members plus Honorary Members drawn from the world of books and beyond. We give out three distinguished National Awards every year and sponsor major literary events in our chapter cities and elsewhere such as the WNBA National Reading Group Month event that is coming up on October 8 as part of San Francisco Litquake.
Mary: How is WNBA different from, say, PEN or The Authors Guild?
Brenda: Membership in PEN and The Authors Guild is limited to traditionally published writers Although most of our members are writers and editors, anyone who wants to help promote literacy on the international, national, and local level can become a member of WNBA.We not only celebrate women in the world of books, we’ve been dedicated to connecting, educating, advocating and leading in the literary community since 1917.
Mary: I was intrigued to learn that WNBA is a member of the United Nations. Could you please tell us more about that?
Brenda: WNBA has been a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) member of the United Nations since 1959. We’re associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information, which means that among other things, we are committed to conducting effective information programs about UN Activities by publishing newsletters, bulletins, and pamphlets; organizing conferences, seminars and round tables; and enlisting the cooperation of the media. In short, it’s our responsibility to support the United Nations in its goals and win support for those goals among members of the wider community.
Mary: What are some of the specific goals WNBA is trying to win support for?
Brenda: Our present goals include promoting gender equality, empowering women world-wide, and reducing child mortality rates. Plus, of course, we are always working to encourage reading and literacy.
Mary: Which brings us to WNBA National Reading Group Month. What is it?
Brenda: WNBA National Reading Group Month celebrates shared reading by promoting the formation of new reading groups and providing the members of existing reading groups with suggestions for Great Group Reads. Great Group Reads are a key element in National Reading Group Month.
Mary: So, if I have this right, you’re putting out a list of great books that the members of the thousands of reading groups in this country will enjoy reading together?
Brenda: Exactly. In our opinion, these books are the best of the best for reading groups to read together.
Mary: How many books do you recommend each year?
Brenda: We recommend 20.
Mary: How are the books chosen?
Brenda: The great reads are chosen by a WNBA panel of writers, reviewers, booksellers, publicists, and committed readers. The titles cover timely and provocative topics, and always include under-represented gems from independent presses and less-known mid-list releases from larger houses. Authors are often surprised to hear that their book has been selected by the National Great Group Reads Panel.
Mary: and pleased.
Brenda: We’ve never had any objections!
Mary: Now let’s talk about “Ghost, Bones, and Dust: Novels of Life and Death,” the National Reading Group Month panel WNBA is hosting on October 8th as the Kickoff Party for San Francisco Litquake. Where is it? When is it?
Brenda: The Great Group Reads panel Litquake Kickoff Party will be held on October 8th from 2:00 to 4:00 pm at Books Inc., the West’s oldest independent bookseller, which is located at 601 Van Ness in San Francisco (Opera Plaza). Lara King, an Edgar-winning mystery novelist, and five best-selling authors will discuss their books and the joys of shared reading. Refreshments will be catered by Max’s Opera Café.
Mary: Refreshments and good books. A great combination. Who are the five authors whom people will meet at this event? I believe I know one of them rather well.
Brenda: Cara Black, author of 14 books in the Private Investigator Aimee Leduc series, which is set in Paris; Patricia V. Davis, author of the bestselling Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food Family, Love, Loss, and Greece; Jessica Chiarella, author of the stunning debut novel And Again; Mary Volmer, author of Reliance Illinois; and Mary Mackey, New York Times bestselling author of 14 novels including The Village of Bones, the prequel to your Earthsong Series. The Panel will be moderated by Laurie R. King, New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell series of historical mysteries.
Mary: I’m honored to be one of the authors featured at this event. So, everyone, please come to Books Inc. on October 8th, celebrate WNBA National Reading Group Month, and buy books from the West’s oldest independent bookseller. We need to support literacy, reading groups, and our independent bookstores!