In my last post, An Evening with Nnedi Okorafor, I wrote about organizing and planning for a visit from the internationally acclaimed, amazing, Dr. Nnedi Okorafor. That visit happened on November 9 - three weeks ago! How time flies when you're on vacation! 🙂
If you've read about my previous events (see in particular my blog post here), it will come as no surprise that things did not go perfectly smooth. Honestly, I would be scared if everything did go smoothly - wondering what was going wrong that I didn't know about to fix. This was, compared to my event in May, filled with only minor inconsequential problems.
November 9 arrived and was miraculously NOT filled with pouring rain. The weather was actually pretty good! Our library event planner had my event as her number one priority and our marketing efforts were running smooth. We had arranged for some students from the Black Cultural Center to pass out flyers. We had even secured permission to pass them out (a necessity on this campus). The first problem of the day was that our approved time slot for passing out flyers was an hour before the students were available to pass them out. Well, what can one do? We staffed the need ourselves until the students could show up.
Dr. Okorafor arrived on her flight and was safely delivered to her accommodations here in town. Food was delivered. The main space for the event was set up. Event signage was up to help people locate the event. Then, snags 2 and 3 happened. Snag 2 was something I could do nothing about. Despite the early advertisement and sending out "Save the Date" notices, the Black Student Alliance had scheduled an event featuring spoken word artist Too Black and starting at exactly the same time as our event. Since we were partnered with the Black Cultural Center, the members of the Black Student Alliance were part of our main target audience. Having competing events was certainly not idea. Still, shikata ga nai (仕方が無い). I let it go.
Snag 3 had to do with audio/visual capabilities and our overflow space. This one was frustrating and intractable. Luckily, I had enlisted my wonderful (and significantly overworked) coworker Kira to wrangle A/V for me on this event (because IT Services, who are ostensibly responsible for this support insisted on responding to my support requests by saying that A/V is "self-service" and they would be happy to show me how the systems work - I could rant for pages on the condescension and inadequacy of this response but I'll leave it there). Anyway, two representatives of IT Services showed up for the mandatory "training" on the A/V systems for our event. They were going to walk Kira through how to use systems she already knew how to use. 🙄 The systems decided not to work. The IT Services people (who were just doing their job - not responsible for the policy of non-support) valiantly stayed and troubleshot the systems right up until we had to abandon them in favor of a backup (last minute) solution ... that also ultimately failed. It seems that there was some server side update overnight that IT Services was not aware of which prevented all webinar communication from our event space to other spaces in the building. Had our overflow space been across town or on the moon, everything would be fine. Since it was in the next room, no dice.
Ultimately, Snag 2 helped make Snag 3 a non-issue for the actual event. It pulled enough people away from attending our event to make it so that we didn't need to use our overflow space. Huzzah!!
Our first event was a "Meet the Author" event. We opened up 30 slots for students from the MFA in Creative Writing program, Africana Studies, and Glossolalia, the literary magazine. We had fancier food than normal for our events (these people wouldn't have time for dinner). Our event planner even found a story about Dr. Okorafor's inspiration for her novel Binti. Well, our event planner is amazing and had special cookies made to celebrate that inspiration. They were offered only to attendees at the "Meet the Author" event. About 20 students showed up (mostly from the MFA in Creative Writing program) and had the chance to ask Dr. Okorafor about the process of writing and about her thoughts on the industry and on being a black female author with an African name in the extremely white world of speculative fiction.
After the "Meet the Author" event, we converted the room for the main author talk. In total, we had 101 people attend the talk. Many were from Virginia Tech, but there were attendees from the general public and from neighboring universities as well. Dr. Okorafor spoke for a while about speculative fiction, her connection of that genre to Africa, her experiences as a writer, and other topics. There was then a short Q&A session. Following the talk, we had a short break and then we had a book signing with refreshments. The University Bookstore was on hand to sell books for the signing and they reported selling more for this event than the usually do for similar events. Dr. Okorafor was gracious enough to sign books for everyone in line and even had short conversations with everyone while doing so.
Overall, this was a magnificent event and I'd love to see more like it - just maybe with more assistance in making it happen. 😅
I'm the Community Collections Archivist, Community and Cultural Centers Librarian & Resident Librarian at Virginia Tech.