It was a grand homecoming for native son Kevin Powell, who headlined the Jersey City library’s eighth annual book festival, Tales of Our Cities 2016, whose life reflects an intellectual and emotional triumph over abject poverty, and the ills inherent in such a life beginning.

With a perfect autumn day in the offing (blue skies, sunshine, cool breeze), Van Vorst Park provided the lush verdant backdrop for the hundreds of festival attendees on Sunday, September 25th. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., where authors from as far as Florida (M.C. Bechum, THE GLASS FORTRESS) and the greater Jersey City area (Kevin Powell, now a Brooklyn, N.Y. resident, THE EDUCATION OF KEVIN POWELL. A BOY’S JOURNEY INTO MANHOOD) spoke from their hearts the words they wrote. Tales of Our Cities 2016 was produced by the Jersey City Free Public Library, in conjunction with the Jersey City Office of Cultural Affairs, Mayor Steven Fulop and the Jersey City Municipal Council.

Twenty-six authors (equally divided between children and adults) committed to present at this book festival, yet because of unforeseen emergent circumstances, two children’s authors couldn’t make it. But that doesn’t mean they can’t receive their just due! (ARIEL’S HOME ADVENTURE by Theresa Borrelli and MY PALL BUDDEE by Vivienne Munn)

Rimli Roy, beautifully dressed with movements full of grace, provided the entertainment. Founder and artistic director of Surati for Performing Arts and Education, Rimli Roy gave insight into Classical and Bollywood dance from India before giving the actual dance performances. (See more details at the end!)

The annual book festival gives fun for the intellectually curious. “We are so excited with presenting Jersey City-native Kevin Powell,” said Michele Dupey, library public information officer and Tales of Our Cities 2016 committee chair. Powell, known for being in the first cast of MTV’s The Real World and being a respected thought-leader on feminism, human and civil rights throughout the world, was supposed to read from his latest—and twelfth!— book, THE EDUCATION OF KEVIN POWELL. A BOY’S JOURNEY INTO MANHOOD, a memoir of his early life, which began in Jersey City.

But Kevin Powell did something very different. Instead of presenting from the gazebo, he brought the microphone to audience-level…and talked about what it really is like to be a successful author.

Kevin paid homage to Jersey City and his mother (who was seated in the audience), waving his book for effect, but he didn’t read from it. He cited classic English literature authors, such as Shakespeare, Chaucer and Keats, as his formative studies (admitting he “didn’t know women writers existed”!), but his thirst for knowledge led him to such celebrated Latino and African-American writers as Richard Wright, Amiri Baraka, Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, the Nuyoricans Poets in New York City – as giving showing him that he could be a writer.

Kevin Powell devoted a full chapter on the Greenville Branch Library in his memoir, where, in the stacks of this Jersey City library branch, his reading fire was first lit. Kevin ended his half-hour talk with a Q&A session with his eager fans.

“Having come from an impoverished background, Kevin found solace in the public library. His personal story is not the first, nor will it be the last, regarding how public libraries have saved a human life, and positively shaped someone’s future,” added Library Director Priscilla Gardner. “We are honored that a chapter features the Greenville Branch Library.”

With the motto, “Celebrating Writers * Promoting Reading” the Jersey City library Tales of Our Cities book festival serves to give authors and audience the opportunity to interact in a uniquely close environment, while enjoying the festive atmosphere of author readings and entertainment.

Aside from Kevin Powell, and previously mentioned authors, all festival authors indicated a very talented roster:

For Adults: Cuba es en la casa, with author Carolina Cositore, whose life in Cuba is depicted in her writing, A WEEK IN HAVANA and a Cuban folktale; satirist Joseph Del Priore leads the reader into his special world with WOLFDEN: SWITCHBLADE STORIES II; poet James C. Ellerbe offers his take on love, life, social politics and economics in his book, BEYOND THE EVENT HORIZON; Edward V. Haas, M.D. uses his eclectic background to create better families in his book, TRANSFORMATIVE PARENTING; local poet, Jacqueline Hallenbeck, delights with fanciful wordplay from her book, POEM-ATIC; Author Sarah Iskafy speaks truth to power in her book, THE SIN OF GREED: MEMOIRS OF AN EX-MUSLIM; Screenwriter Mara Lesemann, who will read from her latest film, DETOURS, which will be featured at the Golden Door Film Festival on Sept. 24; Poet/Publisher Keith Nweze will read from his newest, THE BLACK COLLECTION; Author Hank Quense reprises his brand of humor when he presents the PRINCESS MOXIE series, a satiric take on Camelot; India-native author Jaydeep Shah cares to scare the bejeebus out of us in his Horror Stories series book, THE FEAR IS BACK; Rev. Jacqueline Withers offers an inspirational take on when we get emotional stuck, in her book, RHODA, OPEN UP!

For Young Adults: Award-winning writer Mary Ann McGuigan, whose book WHERE YOU BELONG, was a finalist for the National Book Award; Jeremiah Kleckner and Jeremy Marshall come back to continue their well-received tale, CAPTAIN JAMES HOOK AND THE SIEGE OF NEVERLAND; Jane Pedler, author of THE CIRCUS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, writes her YA tales from original research into people of the mid-19th century; and local writer/publishers Clarence and Deneen Matthews, a father-daughter team that will offer singing, along with a reading from their book, BIZ KIDZ COUNTRY ADVENTURE.

For Children: Writer and entrepreneur Cherese T. Bracey shows children they, too, can have a business in her book, REESIE READER LITTLE ENTREPRENEUR; Writer/publisher Dawn McLaughlin gives children a chance to create their own books through Positively Publishing Kids, and will read from her book, WHO DO YOU THINK I AM?; Kevin Lewis and his KJ series presented his newest book, KJ TALKS ABOUT GOD’S CREATIONS; Halloween and Hoboken, a perfect match for D.L. Luke’s THE TALE OF THE HALLOWEEN CAT, inspired by her real cat when living in neighboring Hoboken; Yolanda Rambert-Marshall wrote BRUISER THE BULLY to create an atmosphere conducive to discussion, so children wouldn’t bully; Tommi Stephens’ book, ONLY WHEN IT RAINS, has a dual purpose, serving as a children’s book and as an adult literacy primer; Children’s baseball coach and former Associated Press journalist Tom Zoccolo will answer the age-old question in his book reading, WHY CAN’T GIRLS PLAY BASEBALL?

Tales of Our Cities 2016 provides quality entertainment for the whole family – with separate areas for children and adults, in the beautiful surroundings of lush, Victorian Van Vorst Park in Downtown Jersey City. Children enjoy face painting and henna application, balloons and storytelling. All festival-goers enjoy the celebration of writing and reading!

This is the first year that the Tales of Our Cities book festival featured food trucks, which have become a welcome staple at cultural events – The Green Radish (vegan), IncrediBalls (meatballs…and more!), Modcup Coffee Company (specialty coffee and pastries) and Muttley Royale (comfort food). The food trucks were stationed along the York Street side of Van Vorst Park, with tables and chairs available, along with two comfort stations (disabilities accommodation and standard).

This also is the first year the book festival has been planned by a full committee, consisting of chair Michele Dupey and four other library employees—Mani Patel, Rominique Rubio, Elysse Sison, and Patricia Vega—most of whom have participated in previous book festivals. Mani and Rominique enjoy working in the Children’s Area, with henna and face painting, respectively, and Patricia will continue to be the festival photographer. Elysse is a newcomer to the process, and she jumped in with all fours, so to speak, overseeing participant applications. The festival committee had the idea of raffling baskets as ‘door’ prizes…filled with Library Logo items and books, of course! The basket for adults had mostly Library Logo items, and the basket for children had t-shirts, Library Logo items, super hero glasses, and 10 assorted books.

Participating Publishers: The Jersey City Independent, Catherine Hecht, publisher; and Raw Thoughtz, Inc., Keith Nwese, publisher.

Participating Vendors: Bunga’s Bodaga, Lorra Heutmaker, artist; Jersey City Library Literacy Program, Darnelle Richardson, program coordinator; and PJ Library, Temple Beth-El, Jersey City, Nancy Sambul.

As with all plans, there are times that life gets in the way. Unfortunately, publisher Shaquanda Stephenson of, and two vendors – artist Richard LaRovere, and the NJ State Library’s Talking Book & Braille Center – were not able to attend.

Special thanks to the Tales of Our Cities 2016 Committee, and all the library employees that worked the event: William Delgado, Teresa Fairley, Priscilla Gardner, Mani Patel, Lannear Laforte, Julie Metri, Deborah Oriol, Cynthia Raysor-Hall, Darnelle Richardson, Sheila Rock, Rominique Rubio, Elysse Sison, José Tenorio, Patricia Vega and Diane Venus.

Special thanks to the festival sponsors: Jersey City Free Public Library, Priscilla Gardner, Library Director; Jersey City Office of Cultural Affairs, Elizabeth Cain, Director & Anne McTernan, Program Coordinator Special Events, Jersey City Mayor Steven M. Fulop and the Jersey City Municipal Council.

Very special thanks to: Surati for Performing Arts and Education, Rimli Roy, Founder & Artistic Director, for performing at short notice. Please see the passage below:

Surati for Performing Arts

Shares its Colorful & Graceful Dance from India at

Tales of Our Cities 2016

Since 2001 Surati, the dance and music school, has been providing an insight into art and culture from India for its students, and through this cultural exchange, to all in Jersey City who enjoy its performances. Surati offers intensive training in Indian classical, traditional folk, contemporary and popular dance and music.

Surati for Performing Arts and Education was founded by noted dancer and choreographer Rimli Roy, who, as its current director, pushes the boundaries of creativity in Indian classical and contemporary dance. Her work combines all dance modalities from India to create an explosion of color, movement and music that captivates its audiences. Ms. Roy began to take her first formal lessons in Indian Classical dancing at the tender age of four, and used her innate sense of rhythm and natural grace of movement to stage performances at six.

According to ZIP Atlas, Jersey City’s Indian community comprises 5.40 percent of its population, which ranks 72 in N.J. (Source: American Community Survey, 2011; U.S. Census, 2010)


Tales of Our City 2016

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