Beach Reads

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

Oh my ... well, all of them! [laughs] But certainly Lorna and Kamau. Kamau just has such an electric yet quiet presence. He really transports the listener. I always look forward to seeing him. — Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik

Unabashed Calabash
Colin Channer, Iron Balloons: Hit Fiction from Jamaica's Calabash Writer's Workshop
With Marlon James and Geoffrey Philp on Saturday, November 18, 10:00 a.m., Room 3313-14 (Bldg. 3, 3rd Fl.)

Sharon Draper
Sharon Draper
Melissa Fay Greene
Melissa Fay Greene


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;

Colin Channer is a literary rebel with a cause. He finds writerly inspiration from the conscious agitators of reggae; the influence of Bob Marley is instantly apparent in the titles of two of his best-selling novels, Satisfy My Soul and Waiting in Vain. He is just as likely to discover a muse in dancehall artist's Cham's recent hit song "Ghetto Story" as he is in the fiction of Sir Vidia Naipaul. Instead of suffering through yet another slew of badly run, poorly attended literary festivals, he collaborated with poet Kwame Dawes to create the Calabash International Literary Festival, which attracts a variety of literary luminaries to Jamaica each year. Fitting with the fest's credo "Mix but don't blend in," this year's lineup ranges from Rebelution-leading dancehall queen Tanya Stephens to Trinidadian novelist Elizabeth Nunez. Channer's most recently published project is Iron Balloons: Hit Fiction from Jamaica's Calabash Writer's Workshop. Besides short stories by up-and-coming Calabash alumnus Marlon James ("The Last Jamaican Lion"), Nunez (the scathing and lush "All Ah We Is One") and Miami Dade College professor Geoffrey Philp ("I Want to Disturb My Neighbor"), the anthology includes a lengthy contribution by Channer, the hilariously titled "How to Beat a Child in the Right and Proper Way."

The Calabash Writer's Workshop is thriving and every year gets better and better. To what do you attribute that success?

Strong leadership and efficient management. Our ambition from the get-go was to create something with international standards. Kwame and I are writers, so we have a literary sensibility, a taste factor. Everything has to be earthy, daring, and diverse. The people of the Caribbean deserve a great event.

How do you feel about the Miami Book Fair International?

The Miami Book Fair is one of the best. The city is so vibrant, and such a diverse range of book lovers and authors come out to see you. Life in New York is so hectic; often you don't get to see the things you want to see. But in Miami I can actually take the time to see other authors. It's a good place to catch up with old friends.

Throughout our conversation, your voice has switched from island patois to American slang, from falsetto to bass. When audiences come to see Colin Channer read, what can they expect?

I guess I've become known as someone who reads his work well. I think it's my personality. Just in normal conversation, I do voices. I'm just a silly guy, and this is no manufactured stage presence. — Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik

Fair Scare
Sharon Draper, Copper Sun
Students’ Literary Encounters, Friday, November 17, 9:30 a.m. (Auditorium) and 10:30 a.m. (Room 3210)

I met Sharon Draper in 2003 when I was the senior librarian in charge of organizing the Teen Read Week author visit for the Hillsborough County library system. More than 500 students came to hear the young-adult author speak about her popular Tears of a Tiger trilogy. She was a success, and the teens were thrilled to meet her, but as she was signing books for the students, she passed out. Seriously, she passed out. We called an ambulance, but she refused medical attention. "I'm fine," she said. "Let's go to lunch." We did, and she passed out, again and again. Draper did not want to go to a strange doctor; she just wanted to go back to Ohio. We somehow got her on a plane. The diagnosis? Oh, just appendicitis. "That's one of my favorite stories to tell, and I embellish it every time I tell it," Draper said when I spoke with her again, exactly three years after that incident. Her latest book, Copper Sun, is about the African slave trade. The fifteen-year-old protagonist, Amari, is taken from her village and sold to a plantation owner in the Carolinas.

So, was that your strangest book tour experience?

The time that I had to be rushed by ambulance back to the airport with acute appendicitis? Yes. I really didn't think it was something that needed surgery. My doctor said I was an idiot: "You got on a plane? Your appendix could have burst!"

But that wasn't the worst experience. The very worst was a school visit. It was on October 31. It was Halloween and all of the kids were dressed up. This was high school, and even the teachers were dressed. The principal met me at the door in a pink tutu — and it was a man, hairy chest and all. The kids were high on candy, it was homecoming, there was a pep rally, a homecoming game after that, and then the dance. A kid said to me: "You'd better talk fast, 'cause as soon as the pep rally starts, we're leaving." More than half the kids hadn't heard of me, and none of them had read my books.

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