Book Fair Celebrates 30 Years of Fighting Homelessness

People walking around looking at books at the book fair.

This fall, Goddard Riverside Community Center celebrates an extraordinary 30-year partnership with the publishing industry—one that has powered our anti-homelessness programs and profoundly shaped our growth as an organization.

In 1987, the closure of psychiatric institutions, combined with a lack of affordable housing, left thousands of people homeless in New York City. Many wound up in the parks and streets of the Upper West Side.

Members of the publishing industry wanted to help. They got together and decided to organize a book fair. They’d sell brand-new books at a 50 percent discount to benefit Goddard Riverside, which was pioneering cutting-edge programs like street outreach to help the homeless.

And that, as the saying goes, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

“It was like a small orchestra got together. More and more instruments joined in. The overture swelled, and the music has never stopped,” recalls Carolan Workman of Workman Publishing.

Year after year, an industry known for fierce competition has come together to help others. The list of companies involved reads like a who’s-who of the book world, including Barnes & Noble, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Scholastic, Hachette, Disney and many more.

Authors including Calvin Trillin, Mary Higgins Clark, Jeffrey Toobin, Martha Stewart, Robert Caro, Oscar Hijuelos and Maya Angelou have taken part in readings and book signings to raise money.

Not only do members of the book industry organize the Book Fair and Meet the Author dinners; many, including Workman, serve on Goddard Riverside’s board. 

“The homeless programs are the ones that mean the most to me,” says board member Susan Richman, who had a long career in publicity at Scribners, Warner Books and Grand Central Publishing, among other houses. “It’s not always easy to work with someone who’s been living on the street for many years. Goddard Riverside does that every day.

“By making their lives better, they make all our lives better.”

Over the years, the Book Fair and its associated events have raised more than $15 million. The Fair has funded teams of homeless outreach specialists who walk the streets at 2 AM on frigid nights. It has created permanent supportive housing for people who’ve spent decades without a home. It has also supported our education and social programs for people of all ages —building community and fighting poverty to help people avoid becoming homeless in the first place.

Despite all that has been accomplished, the need remains. Today, the city’s homeless shelters are overflowing and low-income tenants are getting pushed out of the Upper West Side as rents skyrocket.

“Goddard Riverside’s mission of helping the poor and homeless is more necessary than ever,” says Nathaniel Marunas, Publisher at Quercus US and a member of the Book Fair’s organizing committee. “In a city where the wealth gap is so stark, there’s room for everyone to get involved.”