Beach Reads

Big names? Big Deal. An alternative take on the Book Fair.

Do you have a favorite interview in the book?

To have to choose a favorite between Dorothy Parker, Borges, and Jack Gilbert, the poet? Between James M. Cain on the one hand and Rebecca West on the other? It would seem an unkind choice to have to make.

Do you think would-be writers are seeking a formula? What do you think draws people to this sort of book or an event like the book fair?

Mervyn Solomon
Mervyn Solomon
Colin Channer
Colin Channer

Details

Congress of Authors, November 12-19; Street Fair, November 17-19. Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus, downtown Miami between Biscayne Boulevard and NE 1st Avenue from NE 3rd Street to NE 5th Street; www.miamibookfair.com.

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What comes out of the discussion of craft is not simply "Well, I use a No. 2 pencil on white lined paper" or "I type facing north between 11:00 and 1:30 everyday" or something like that. What's really interesting is that by asking people how they pursue their craft, you really get what absorbs them, what's really on their mind; it takes them to another level of intimacy with their preoccupations, their opinions. There's a kind of candor that emerges. I think that a lot of the attraction here is, sure, some people wondering what is the writing life all about, but it's also the chance to have, with great minds of literature, the closest thing you're ever going to get to a superintelligent conversation. It's a better conversation than you'd probably have if you sat next to them at your fantasy dinner, because at that dinner, they're not going to talk about all the deepest things in their life at once.

Many people complain, "Oh, I met the famous artist, I met the person I admire so much, and all they talked about was their indigestion or their real estate tax or something petty and kind of ungrand, and they were evasive and strange about their own work and about literature, and they made me feel silly." But here you get to meet that person and over time all the other stuff has been edited out and the real good stuff is there.

When there are so many other forms of media, how do you think that a publication like theParis Review — or even short-story writing or long-form journalism — can remain relevant?

It always remains relevant. I know there are statistics out there and studies about who reads what when, but this has never been, honestly, mass circulation stuff. I feel we're at a time of complexity and turmoil and change and perplexity about our world. It seems like a very ripe time for writers. I don't think people feel that their quick-fix news or other forms of entertainment are doing a devastatingly sharp job of rendering reality these days.

Since you haven't spent very much time in Miami before, do you have any expectations about who might show up for your presentation?

That the audiences are surprising and interested and large and curious — part of it is that you actually find out who's reading it and who wants to know by going. Their coming to see you is the official format, but in fact I'm going to see them too. — Emily Witt


Island Expression
Mervyn Solomon, creator and coordinator of the Caribbean Voices program
Saturday, November 18, 1:30 p.m., Room 3313-14 (Bldg. 3, 3rd Fl.)

Mervyn Solomon's interest in the literature of the West Indian diaspora traces to his boyhood in Trinidad. His father was a respected headmaster, and Solomon recalls listening to the BBC program Calling the Caribbean. In 1989 he took the reins of the increasingly important task of inviting authors to the then-burgeoning Caribbean Voices program. Now, seventeen years later, the program is one of the most vital components of the Miami Book Fair International, and the lineup has grown increasingly representative of the archipelago's diverse intonations. Some of this year's invitees include Jamaica-born Canadian expatriate fiction writer Pamela Mordecai, acclaimed Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison, and burgeoning Trinidadian writer Lawrence Scott.

How has the reception to Caribbean authors changed over the past seventeen years?

More and more people have become aware of the program. A couple of things have helped: Edwidge Danticat [Krik-Krak and Breath, Eyes, Memory] became well known, and Miami Dade College itself introducing people like Maryse Condé [Guadeloupean author of I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem], [Nobel laureates] Derek Walcott, Sir Vidia Naipaul, Earl Lovelace [Trinidadian author of The Dragon Can't Dance] ... so when these kinds of big names come, it helps to bring credibility to what we do.

Are there plans to perhaps include some younger, more up-and-coming Caribbean writers?

I have always been conscious of the need to straddle the generations. This year you will see well-established authors like Kamau Braithwaite and Lorna Goodison, and you will also see [Jamaican poets] Donna Weir-Soley and Shara McCallum — two ends of the chronological spectrum. To keep it fresh, we try to highlight female writers especially. For example, Deborah Jack is from the Dutch-speaking Caribbean; she's an artist and poet. We're also reaching out to varied ethnicities, for example Ramabai Espinet [who is Indo-Trinidadian], and Lawrence Scott is a white Trinidadian who has a very interesting past. He set out to be a monk, and now he's a writer. He's got a fascinating story.

Are there any authors you would particularly encourage newcomers to the Caribbean literary scene to see?

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