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New York Festival Celebrates Literature from Diverse Group of Writers

In early autumn, an array of international artists presented their best on the page and on the stage in the Harlem section of New York City. The presentation is part of a new festival celebrating storytelling through books and performance.

The three-day UpSouth International Book Festival presented works and performances by artists and writers of various backgrounds and nationalities. Some came from as far away as Mexico, Cuba, Ecuador, Trinidad and Sierra Leone; others as close as Harlem.

Festival founder Malaika Adero says it was launched to shine a light on contemporary storytelling as an art and tool for enlightenment.

"The purpose is to promote great storytelling, to promote primarily great books and the people who make them," she said. "To celebrate literature as a storytelling medium, but also to celebrate dance, music, film, all the forms in which we use to tell our stories and to do so in a way that showcases the brilliance of diversity."

Guests of the festival included actor and activist Ruby Dee, who read from her book Life Lit by Some Large Vision, a compilation of speeches by her late husband, actor Ossie Davis. Another writer, Pulitzer Prize winner Oscar Hijuelos, read from his book Cuba Is ... Poetry in both Spanish and English.

Adero says her goal in starting the festival is to bring together a multi-cultural group of artists so they have a new platform to connect with each other and with audiences.

"It is an opportunity for artists to meet other artists doing other kinds of work," she said. "It is an opportunity for the audience to meet artists and authors in an intimate way and engage with them. It is very much about creating a dialog and creating community across all kinds of boundaries."

Actor Ruby Dee says although storytelling has taken on various new forms because of television and other media, books will never lose their allure.

"There are dimensions that we can get from books that are not possible on television. There is something about seeing it in the book, that hearing on television and the radio does not satisfy," she said.

Adero hopes to continue to expand the festival each year, because she says the mission of the festival is timeless. Humans, she says, have been telling stories since long before the written word.