For the first time in the eight-year history of Polyrhythms’ Bill Bell Jazz & Heritage Festival, there will be a Black Authors Forum and Book Fair during the event.

The forum (including a Q & A) will be on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the Martin Luther King Center’s Ida Robinson Banquet Room, 630 9th St., Rock Island. Several of the authors will be selling their books outside during the festival on Saturday, Aug. 20 beginning at 12 noon.

The goals for the Authors Forum and Fair include:

  • Introducing the Quad-City community to local published authors.
  • Providing authors a platform to sell their books, share their process and passion, and inspire future authors.
  • Continuing to build on Polyrhythms/Jazz & Heritage Festival’s mission to provide cultural and learning activities that enhance the quality of life for our audience/community.
  • Encouraging mutual relationships between authors and the community.
  • Promoting community and family literacy.

Event organizer/host and Polyrhythms co-founder Shellie Moore Guy said Tuesday that the festival was always meant to encompass and highlight more than just music.

“There’s room for art and culture and literature of all kinds,” she said, noting the festival has donated books to children in past years.

“So this is really a continuation,” Guy said, adding organizing the authors has been a team effort. “The push to promote community literacy is not new. I think the idea came up several years ago, we’d always planned to highlight literacy.”

Judith Lewis of East Moline, author of “Watertown Memories,” is one of the featured Black writers at the Jazz & Heritage Festival.

She is one of several African-American authors in the area, and in 2019 published her first children’s book (based on the jazz pianist and educator Bill Bell, who was born in East Moline), “How Little Billy Learned to Play.” Guy plans to release her second children’s book in 2023, called “The Family Tree.”

In addition to her, the Black Authors Forum in Rock Island will feature the following writers with QC ties:

  • Jasmine Babers
  • Torrian Ball
  • Aubrey Barnes
  • James Culver
  • Acie Earl
  • Pastor Dwight Ford
  • Evonnda Fulton
  • Amari Harris
  • Pastor P. Wonder Harris
  • Isis Hollingshed
  • Dr. Pandora Lawrence
  • Judith Lewis
  • Kam Newborn (11 years old)
  • Kylee Newborn (15 year old)
  • Tamara Newborn
  • Nichole Collins Payney
  • Avery Pearl
  • Dr. Burl Randolph
  • Nyilah Sulaimana
  • Chavaras Trice
  • Shonna Tyson
  • Johnnie Woods

“Representation truly matters,” Guy said Tuesday of recognizing authors of color. “We’re living in a time where we are purposely highlighting diverse voices. And so it’s very important that the community know that there are other voices here. Same way with the acting community and plays.”

“I think we’re getting to that point, I believe, but it has to be intentional,” she said of stressing diversity, equity and inclusion. “These things don’t happen because we think it should happen. We’ve done it this way 15 times, so it should happen on the 16th time. We’ve got to intentionally do the work. And so we’re hoping that these authors will serve as an inspiration to African American children, adults and everyone else in the community, who didn’t know that there were these talents here in the Quad Cities.”

“It’s going to be interesting to see if this event and what we hope for is, that this event will encourage new voices,” Guy said.

The QC Bill Bell Jazz & Heritage Festival is all free — Friday, Aug. 19 from 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 20 from noon to 10 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 21, from 3 to 8 p.m. The performers include Wes Julien with Club Crib, Piso’s Cure, The Channel Cats, James Culver and Kuchina Jazz 3, Manuel Lopez & Daniel Leahy, Saul Lubaroff & Andy Parrott, and Charlotte Blu.

Friday and Saturday will take place at Martin Luther King Park, 630 9th St., Rock Island, and Sunday at Becherer Hall Auditorium, Rivermont Collegiate, 1821 Sunset Drive, Bettendorf.

At MLK Park, the entertainment includes family-friendly fare — a drum circle and a strong youth educational component (Youth Showcase) around reading, drumming, dance, art, and performance. 

A personal memoir in new book

Shellie Moore Guy of Rock Island is a storyteller, performance artist, published poet and former Poet Laureate of the Quad Cities who uses self-expression as a tool for individual and community empowerment.

Shellie Moore Guy of Rock Island wrote the children’s book “How Little Billy Learned to Play” in honor of East Moline native Bill Bell.

Her next children’s book, “The Family Tree,” will focus on her family’s history on her father’s side, going back to slavery in Kentucky and the Civil War era of the 1860s.

“I’m looking at all of the information that we have gathered about our great, great-grandfather and his brother and sister and mother, who were slaves in Kentucky, and what his life was like,” Guy said. “And we know what it’s like, because we have that in his narrative, his interview. combining what he told us, what he left for us in his own words and and history. It’s a children’s book that’s going to be based on on that story.”

Her ancestors were members of the 108th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops, who were sent to Rock Island. The regiment guarded Confederate prisoners of war during the Civil War, at the POW camp on Rock Island Arsenal from September 1864 – May 1865.

And when the war was over and slavery outlawed, they came back here to live. Guy wanted to write in a children’s book format with the understanding it would be beneficial for all ages, but she wanted to start with children.

“We teach history and I think that children can naturally absorb it without prejudice,” she said. “I think it would be exciting. Hopefully it’ll be exciting for children to know that this is a story — that it’s a local story.”

Guy is working with new book illustrator Gwen Ballard Patton, who works in The Lincoln Resource Center in Davenport. “She’s an accomplished illustrator, so I’m very excited about that,” Guy said.

The illustrator for “Little Billy” was Marshall Pass, “who just did a phenomenal job, ” she said. “It’s a blessing to be able to talk to local artists, and it goes back to our plan to feature local talent.”

For more information about the Jazz and Heritage Festival, click HERE.