A native of South Bronx, Saraciea Fennell has been a longtime supporter of the area’s literary scene. The creator of The Bronx is Reading, which works to foster an interest in reading in Bronx children using author events and book donations, Fennell noticed a need for increased literary prominence in the area after its last remaining book store closed in 2016.

That’s why she founded the Bronx Book Festival, the first (of hopefully many) of which will take place on May 19th. The festival will feature writers Elizabeth Acevedo and Daniel Jose Older as keynote speakers, and a host of other writers and illustrators are slated to participate.

Fennell spoke to Andrea Ruggirello for Shondaland about a range of topics including how her love of books helped her to escape living in foster care during some of her formative years: “I broke my arm when I was about 7 years old and missed a lot of school for a bit. I fell behind with school work and my reading level dropped. A teacher recommended I read more books aloud at home. That teacher introduced me to Roald Dahl and my life changed. Shortly after I broke my arm, my family went through a bad stretch and I ended up in foster care. Reading books was a way for me to escape and suspend my sordid reality.”

Fennell says that the festival will have panels dedicated to writing as a queer author of color, what it’s like to publish a book, and writing from an immigrant perspective. It will also have readings and book drawings, with select readings being held in Spanish.

Fennell also told Shondaland some of her favorite authors are Jesmyn Ward, Edwidge Danticat, Jason Reynolds, Leigh Bardugo, and Octavia Butler before giving her vision of a future literary Bronx:

The future of the festival is bright. Once I obtain nonprofit status later this year, I will be working on building partnerships with publishers and all the literary outlets in the Bronx. I want to bridge the gap. I’m eager for people to recognize the potential in the Bronx and I’m bent on making the literary scene in the borough more visible and accessible to all Bronxites!