Tombolo Books in St. Petersburg, Florida, hosted its first major book launch on Thursday, April 12, in celebration of Florida author Rob Sanders’ newest picture book, Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag (Random House Books for Young Readers), illustrated by Steven Salerno.
“I was thrilled to be back in the excitement of planning and hosting a book signing,” owner Alsace Walentine told Bookselling This Week. Walentine, who worked at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café in Asheville, North Carolina, for 16 years, including as the store’s author events coordinator, opened Tombolo’s current pop-up location in December 2017 in the city’s EDGE district and is currently on the hunt for the store’s permanent home.
According to Walentine, the launch event, held at the ArtsXchange gallery in the city’s Warehouse Arts District, drew more than 100 people of all ages and beliefs, including St. Petersburg City Councilman Steve Kornell, and was part of the fourth annual SunLit Festival, produced by Keep St. Pete Lit. That evening, Sanders read from his book and was interviewed by University of South Florida professor Mellissa Alonso-Teston, followed by an audience Q&A and book signing.
Sanders’ book tells the origin of the rainbow-colored Gay Pride Flag in 1978 as a symbol of hope and shows its historical impact up until today. This year marks 40 years since the flag’s creation by designer Gilbert Baker; it was inspired by gay rights activist and community leader Harvey Milk, who became one of the first openly gay officials when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, though he was shot and killed the following year.
“At many moments it was hard to find a dry eye in the room,” said Walentine. Thursday’s author event included a children’s activity table, a rainbow-colored jelly bean bar, rainbow flag cookies, gifts of handmade natural soaps branded with the book’s cover by a local body products company, and a photo opportunity with the author next to one of the original Pride flags, numbered and signed by Baker.
“We also partnered with several non-profits to make the evening a success, including the ArtsXchange, and helped to raise $1,000 for local organization Family Resources, which aids homeless LGBTQ youth,” said Walentine.
Sanders, who Walentine says helped gather all of the donations for the silent auction, is a teacher and writer for young children and the author of Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights, illustrated by Jared Andrew Schorr, coming from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on September 25, 2018. His other forthcoming books, Stonewall: The Uprising for Gay Rights (Random House Books for Young Readers) and Ball & Balloon (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), are due out in 2019.
BTW has been covering Walentine’s journey to open her own brick-and-mortar bookstore since November 2015, when she moved to the St. Petersburg area and began networking, scouting locations, taking business classes, and creating connections with community leaders and the media.
Read BTW’s previous installments (“Alsace Walentine on Laying the Foundations for Her New Bookstore”; “Plans for St. Pete Bookstore on Track”; and “What’s in a Name?: Tombolo Books”) and find Tombolo on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.