In a cozy corner theater in the heart of Little Havana's Calle Ocho (Eighth Street), light shines on the small elevated stage, where the Afro-Cuban experimental band Io performs a percussive interpretation of the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Behind them a video screen beams footage of underwater life. Earlier Miami-Dade Community College professor and writer Preston Allen read his poignant short story Get Some, and local author Brian Antoni shared an entertaining excerpt from his novel-in-progress Eye of the Orgy.
This is the very same Calle Ocho that hosts the giant block party that attracts millions of people every year. But since late January the famous street also has been home to Words and Music, a hip happening that features published and unpublished writers reading from their works in English and in Spanish, as well as a band that plays before, after, and in between the literary sets.
The idea of independent TV producer and aspiring writer Ana Martinez, "Words" originated in early January at Meza Fine Art gallerycafe with readings by Ana Veciana-Suarez and Daina Chaviano. After a few weeks at the elegant Meza, Martinez moved the gathering to a more casual space, Cafe Teatro Zayon. While spectators check out what's happening onstage, they can sip a beer or a glass of wine in one of the 65 crimson velvet chairs, which are clustered in pairs around tiny round wooden tables.
Uniting cultures while promoting culture is not an easy feat. Preston Allen knows the difficulties. For more than two years he coordinated the Butterfly Lightning Reading Series at Tobacco Road. "I admire what she's doing; it's not easy," he notes. "Writers are extremely egotistical. They want a place to perform. Musicians, by the time they get to the point where they are performing, don't want to do freebies anymore."
Martinez concurs: The musicians need to be paid, and their funds mostly have come straight out of her pocket. But she maintains hope that soon a regular audience will gravitate to her Friday-night salon-in-the-making. "The vision is not complete," she says. "It's not just about what's happening on the stage. I'm trying to create a place for people from all the arts to gather, where they come and have a drink, listen to great stuff, and then they stay awhile and mingle. Just a place to talk, to communicate."