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Former President Barack Obama welcomed booksellers to the 16th Winter Institute, the American Booksellers Association’s (ABA) annual conference for independent booksellers, held virtually this year because of the pandemic.

In a three-minute pre-recorded message he praised the role of booksellers and spoke with feeling about how much books mean to him.  He recalled finding a box of classics at a jumble sale when he was a teenager and “for some reason pulling out titles that appealed to me”.  He added: “all those books: they were expanding my mind” as he wrestled with his “budding identity of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live”.

At a time when there has been much talk about community and community support as countries face lockdown after lockdown, he acknowledged the importance of bookstores and booksellers, saying: “You aren’t selling books: you’re selling knowledge, discovery, wisdom, empathy, access to thoughts and worlds that readers have never experienced before. As a reader and as an author, I couldn’t be more grateful for the work that all you do every single day, especially during such a tough year.”

This year’s Winter Institute also included poetry from the star of President Biden’s inauguration, Amanda Gorman.  She recited the title poem from her forthcoming debut picture book, Change Sings, illustrated by Loren Long.  “I can hear change humming its loudest, proudest song/ I don’t fear change coming, and so I sing along,” she began, finishing with the words, “We all hear change coming. Won’t you sing along?”