Anna Weber, events director at White Whale Bookstore, Pittsburgh, Pa., has won the 2021 New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Joe Drabyak Spirit Handseller of the Year Award.
Weber said, "I came to this job as many booksellers do: I love books, I've always loved books, and reading has been central to my life since I was very small."
A bookseller at White Whale Bookstore for almost three years, Weber said her interactions with those who seem nervous about being in a bookstore are her favorite. "They have this idea that it's going to be a pretentious, judgmental place. That's part of why people use algorithms instead, right? An algorithm isn't judging you and what you like. I love to show these neighbors of ours that bookstores do the opposite of belittle; they make you feel seen, bring you into a conversation, connect you to a local (and global) community of readers, broaden your horizon and challenge preconceived notions of people, places, and genre...
"Everyone, even self-proclaimed non-readers, remembers how they felt when they read their first book, or the first book that blew their minds. That feeling of eagerness and delight at the realization of what a book can be or do. The way you gush over the books that mean something to you. I try to bring that to every handselling interaction, no matter how brief."
Jill Yeomans, co-owner of White Whale Bookstore, called Weber "the shelf-talker queen. She has so many on the floor that we started running contests with other staff to inspire friendly competition. But even with so many glowing recommendations, Anna makes sure each one is dynamite and geared toward uplifting books and authors that might otherwise be overlooked, and she succeeds at making those our bestsellers. Likewise, her in-store displays and new books stories on our social media accounts always strive to bring attention to indie presses, BIPOC authors, or works in translation, and the sales are often paired with a charitable donation. One of our customers calls Anna 'the Alexa of bookselling'--anything you're looking for, you can ask Anna, and she'll find you the perfect read. Our regulars tell us 'You'd better hold onto that one,' and we couldn't agree more."
Weber received her MFA in creative nonfiction writing at the University of Pittsburgh in 2019, where she developed her current nonfiction manuscript about a small town in western Poland during World War II. For several years she was the translation editor at the Offing. She'll read anything once and many things twice, and she lives to offer recommendations, especially in poetry, fiction, and works in translation in all genres.
Nissa Bagelman of Como Sales has won the 2021 Kristin Keith Sales Rep of the Year award, sponsored by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association, in recognition of her "dedication, enthusiasm, and support for the independent booksellers."
Kristin Pidgeon, buyer at Riverstone Bookstore, Pittsburgh, Pa., praised Bagelman, saying, "In the NAIBA region we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to sales reps. Each rep knows their list and crafts the mark ups to fit our customer base. However, Nissa goes above and beyond! She knows Riverstone as well as I do and makes sure I don't miss a book, a preorder opportunity, or a promotion. She remembers my staff picks better than I do. She works hard to make sure we have the best PR pitch for event grids, and she checks in after an event to make sure it went well. Nissa's sales calls remind me of the time I spent working with Kristin Keith. She brings the same informed passion for books that Kristin shared, and I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award."
Bagelman said, "I'm honored and truly humbled. It isn't lost on me that I'm early in my bookselling career, and my worst-kept secret (that I don't actually live in the Mid-Atlantic... gasp!) poses challenges--so winning over this spectacular group is a tremendous honor." She happily added that her territory is expanding to include Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Books are in Bagelman's blood. Her grandparents owned an independent bookstore for 60 years in Center City Philadelphia called Reedmor Books. She fondly remembers her grandfather finding rare books, pulps, and magazines for collectors. She inherited the wooden Reedmor sign that adorned the building; it's proudly on display in her house. "Maybe someday it will grace another bookstore," she said.
She began her book career with a college internship with the Boston Book Festival, followed by a stint as a bookseller at Borders. She then became a special sales assistant at the Perseus Books Group and later became sales manager of mail order, specialty wholesale and online retail at Workman. "My two and a half years at Workman reminded me how FUN and fulfilling bookselling could be," she said. "I found my publishing home and never wanted to leave. But I did want to return to Boston, so after a tearful goodbye to my Workman family, I dove into the choppy waters of unemployment... for seven weeks. Luckily for me, Como Sales was looking for a new mid-Atlantic rep (thank you, Joe Ginis!). Somehow, this 20-something baby who lived in New England sweet-talked her way into the most rewarding of gigs. And the rest, as they say, is history!"