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LIT Fest Brings Black Romance To Dixwell

September 11, 2023

Originally posted on the Arts Council Arts Paper

Article and Photos by Lucy Gellman


Black woman with low cut hair and glasses smiling holding a stack of books
Markeshia Ricks, who moderated a panel on The Davenports, with her haul

For author Margo Hendricks, Romance was a way to explore the very real history of class, race and power in Elizabethan England. For Tara L. Roi, it was a place where she could talk about climate change, and convince readers to listen. Krystal Marquis and Adriana Herrera just wanted to read about people who looked like them—and realized they would have to literally write the book.   


In the process, they liberated the genre from its box—and made space for writers, readers and stories whose voices have always existed, but often been gaslit, whitewashed, and asked to edit themselves out of the narrative. 


Authors, artists, and over 100 bibliophiles brought that expansiveness to Stetson Branch Library and the Dixwell Community Q House Saturday, as the fourth annual Elm City LIT Fest celebrated  the "Literature of Hope" with author panels, workshops, art activities, performances and a book fair in the building's multipurpose gym. The event was organized by Kulturally LIT, a small but mighty team which buzzed around the building all day.   

For the first time this year, the festival partnered with the Department of African American Studies and Popular Romance Fiction Conference at Yale University, held Sept. 8 and 9 between Yale's downtown campus and the Q House.  Over two days, the conference included author talks, workshops at Stetson and at Yale, and a Saturday evening keynote from romance writer Beverly Jenkins and cultural critic and author Roxane Gay.



Older Black woman with grey locs holding a microphone and paper to introduce panel
Elm City LIT Fest Founder IfeMichelle Gardin


"I'm full of gratitude," said LIT Fest Founder IfeMichelle Gardin, who has grown the festival from a grassroots book club in a tiny police substation to an hours-long annual event and literary organization that operates all year round, and will next year celebrate James Baldwin's 100th birthday. "I'm so grateful that this bookfest has evolved and I'm so excited for what's to come."   


While “the literature of hope” may be a title that comes from the romance genre itself, that sense of possibility took on many forms Saturday, from music and multimedia art to the announcement of New Haven’s inaugural poet laureate (stay tuned for a full article on that). By late morning, it crackled through the humid air, attendees beating the heat as they made a loop around the Q House's patio and trickled into the open gym. 


Outside, vendors set up tents with books, jewelry, and clothes in bright African prints, some dancing along to the bell-like, ringing of steel pan as Caribbean Vibe Steel Drum Band and St. Luke's Steel Band took over the space. Across the patio, hula hoops materialized, and attendees moved along with the sound as they made their way through the thick heat. The festivities were not even a full hour in, and already it felt like a celebration. 





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