Black Writers Weekend goes digital, creator stays committed

Despite postponing the in-person festival because of COVID-19, Tamika Newhouse creates an online experience for Atlanta’s black writers.
Tamika Newhouse has published 17 books. Newhouse is standing on Auburn Avenue on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Photo: Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tamika Newhouse has published 17 books. Newhouse is standing on Auburn Avenue on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Photo: Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

More than a decade after her mother’s passing, Tamika Newhouse still gets emotional, struggling to find the words to describe the relationship she had with her mother.

“She wasn’t technically a nurturer, so I didn’t grow up being coddled or held and things like that,” Newhouse said. “But she knew me in ways I didn’t recognize as a child.”

The two may not have had a traditional mother-daughter relationship. But now as a mother herself, the 33-year-old points to her mother's death as the catalyst that jump-started her career as a writer, entrepreneur and founder of one of Atlanta's premiere creative festivals, Black Writers Weekend.

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“I got the hustle from her,” Newhouse said. “I’ve taken a lot of those tools from watching her work job after job. I took that and I do that day to day. Which is why, even now, I don’t want to work for anybody. I try to build my own empire.”

And she’s done just that.

In 2008, just a few years after her mother’s passing, the entrepreneur started a national online book club called the African Americans on the Move Book Club (AAMBC). The following year, she launched the AAMBC Awards. And as if those were not enough, Newhouse has published nearly 200 titles, serves as CEO of Delphine Publications and heads up Black Writers Weekend alongside LaQ’uita Adams.

Black Writers Weekend creator Tamika Newhouse (left) poses with a reader at the 2019 Black Writers Weekend Festival in Atlanta. Contributed by AAMBC Inc.

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At 23, Newhouse moved to the Atlanta area and later made it Black Writers Weekend headquarters. For the last five years, the festival has been the annual gathering for Atlanta’s writers, filmmakers and creatives. Its offerings range from workshops that teach independent writers how to self-publish and market their work to networking events where aspiring writers can meet and learn from industry veterans. The festival’s signature event is the AAMBC Awards, which has honored names such as American poet and activist Nikki Giovanni, and self-published pioneer Teri Woods.

Authors are seated on stage during a Diversity in Children’s Books panel during the Cre8tiveCon event at the 2019 Black Writers Weekend in Atlanta. Contributed by AAMBC Inc.

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Kimberly Jones is the author of “I’m Not Dying with You Tonight” and former store manager at Little Shop of Stories children’s bookstore in Decatur. She is no stranger to the literary scene and said Newhouse’s timing with Black Writers Weekend could not have been better.

“I just want to say thank God for Tamika Newhouse. That sister is holding down and has created a space for us that is so necessary, and she has carried it on her back almost entirely on her own,” Jones said. “She really is just a gift to the black writing community.”

In 2016, the AAMBC Awards honored bestselling author Mary Monroe with the Maya Angelou Lifetime Achievement Award. For more than 30 years, Monroe has traveled the nation for book events and conferences. However, Monroe says nothing compares to Newhouse’s festival in Atlanta, where the community is like family, she said.

“She’s such a visionary when it comes to literature for African American authors, because we don’t get the exposure that most of the other authors get, meaning the white authors, and only a few of the black authors get the type of exposure that Tamika is giving to us these days,” Monroe said.

While Newhouse serves as the face and creative backbone of the writer’s festival, she admits she could not do it without her AAMBC staff and business partner LaQ’uita Adams.

“We had to cry together. We had to vent together. We had to hustle together. We had to research together,” Newhouse said.

Tamika Newhouse is the creator of the annual Black Writers Weekend to take place from Aug. 27-29.

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When COVID-19 rocked the nation, the two had to put their heads together and find a way to make Black Writers Weekend happen.

“The first thing that was on the forefront of our minds was the safety of everybody,” Adams said. “Things seemed to be changing and (the state was) opening up, but if we’re only supposed to have 10 people at an event, how can we have a festival?”

So at the top of May, Adams and Newhouse made the conscious decision to push Black Writers Weekend back to 2021. It’ll be a digital festival this year from Aug. 27-29 with many of the in-person panels, workshops and networking opportunities moving to a video-conference platform.

Still, the two are hopeful for the future as Newhouse has set her sights on Black Writers Weekend becoming Atlanta’s very own Essence Festival.

If Newhouse’s mother could see all that she built, Newhouse thinks she would say job well done.

“I know my mother would tell me that she knew that I could get through it,” the author and entrepreneur said. “She knew I could handle what was being thrown at me, and job well done, and keep going, and there will probably be some more, but you’ve got it.”