Our First Remote Book Launch

The broadcast is supposed to start at 7:00, and at 7:01 author Barbara Linn Probst and I are in the virtual studio of a broadcasting software program neither of us are very familiar with, trying to get her sound turned on. “Disaster!” Barbara texts me in despair. We are both nervous. A few (very long) minutes later, the software glitch is fixed and we get going. Folks chime in with greetings, congratulations, questions. Barbara reads; it sounds beautiful. We wind the conversation up an hour later, giddy and cheerful.

This is Barbara’s launch party, an event that was supposed to be happening in person, in a bookstore surrounded by her friends. She was supposed to read at Pen + Brush the week before, as part of our reading series. Unfortunately Barbara, like many other writers, has had her launch plans quickly rewritten into events that accommodate social distancing. We were excited that we could work with her to do a remote launch, though, with a reading and a Q&A session. It was a first for her – this is her debut novel, after all – and a first for us. But a successful first!

If you missed our PR in the past weeks, Barbara’s debut novel, Queen of the Owls, is about an art historian named Elizabeth who is writing a doctoral thesis on Georgia O’Keeffe. The family intellectual, she is firmly tucked into neat identity boxes: wife, mother, art scholar, older sister. Her self-worth is entirely bound up in how she thinks, and her relationship to O’Keeffe’s work is purely, bloodlessly academic. When she encounters charismatic photographer Richard, who has questions about O’Keeffe’s collaborations with Alfred Stieglitz, Elizabeth realizes it is time to address the awareness that has haunted her since she was a child: the truth that cerebral knowledge will never be enough. The novel digs into how to balance the many narratives women are given to live, and how a woman can rectify her identity when the world sees her as an intellect rather than a body. Can we reclaim that body on our own terms? Elizabeth hopes so. With praise from authors such as best-selling authors Christina Baker Kline and Caroline Leavitt, as well as many others, Queen of the Owls has garnered attention long before it arrived, and will be the May 2020 selection for the Pulpwood Queens, a network of nearly 800 book clubs across the U.S.

If you weren’t able to attend and you are interested in hearing Barbara read from the novel and answer some questions about it, you can do so on our Youtube channel.  You can learn more about Barbara and where to buy your own copy of Queen of the Owls on her website.

When Barbara initially pitched an event to us, it felt like the right book for us: we show a lot of art that challenges the history of men photographing women, and I love the chance to talk about writing that makes us think about how we define women. While we didn’t get the event we had initially talked about last November, we did have a lively, energetic discussion. We – two women with a bent toward doing it right – embraced the imperfect, started late, and did it anyway. We let ourselves be seen. Maybe not as fully as Elizabeth does in the novel, but we put our faces on the screens of watchers across the country and we looked pretty good.

As one character encourages Elizabeth, “You try. You try, and you can.” We tried. We could. Next time the sound will work on the first go.