On a sweltering summer night in Miami, is there anything better than listening to a discussion about books, small presses, and the history of Jai-Alai?
Last Thursday, an eclectic mix of mostly young attendees settled atop plush couches in the Standard Spa lobby for a lecture given by P. Scott Cunningham, executive editor of Jai-Alai Books; and Seth Labenz, creative director. As part of Exile Books’ "Summer at the Standard" during June, the goal is to showcase Miami’s publishing projects and independent presses.
"When I first moved back to Miami about two years ago, I attended the O, Miami poetry events, and I was just really impressed with everything that they were doing," says Amanda Keeley, founder of pop-up artists' bookstore Exile Books. "It's really nice to give Miami some new cultural material and give other artists an opportunity to present their own projects.”
Jai-Alai Books came into being when the publisher won the 2014 Knight Arts Challenge, with the goal of fostering a literary identity for Miami.
"I still believe the book is the best piece of tech for reading right now,” Cunningham says. "And I think that small presses can give a city shape.”
Jai-Alai has published three books to date: Forager: A Subjective Guide to Miami’s Edible Plants, by Tiffany Noé, George Echevarria, and Nick Vagnoni; Suicide by Jaguar, by Dave Landsberger; and Last Night I Dreamt I Was a DJ, by Frank Báez.
The latter two were published concurrently in English and Spanish to demonstrate that both languages are privileged in Miami. Anyone can pick up the books, read them, and start a conversation without excluding one culture or the other.
For its next project, Jai-Alai will publish a book of poems by Spanish writer Elena Medel, titled Mi Primer Bikini / My First Bikini, which she wrote when she was only 16 years old. The second book slated for 2015 remains a mystery.
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But there’s good news for aspiring writers in Miami: Jai-Alai will accept submissions around the time of this year’s Miami Book Fair International. No word yet on what exactly the publishers are looking for, but it’s safe to say it won’t be poetry.
"We don’t have fiction immediately on the horizon, but it’s something we want to do in the future,” Cunningham says. "My finger is more on the pulse of poetry, so it'd be great to get different kinds of submissions and things I won't be expecting."