Women Are at the Center of Miami Book Fair 2015

Patti Smith returns to headline MBF.
Patti Smith returns to headline MBF.
Jesse Dittmar

The book-publishing industry has a gender gap. Study after study has shown the sector that should be the most enlightened has yet to shatter the glass ceiling: Men publish more books, and the vast majority of major literary awards go to male authors who write books about men. These facts are especially surprising, in part, because women account for the overwhelming majority of book buyers.

Miami Book Fair (MBF) is trying to rectify this disparity by putting the focus on women working in nearly all of the genres: from memoirists and essayists to historians, journalists, poets, and novelists. This Sunday, November 15, through next Sunday, November 22, MBF will prove to the literary world that women aren't simply a market trend. And MBF cofounder and chair Mitchell Kaplan is proud of the fair's varied lineup.

"From the outset, we've always wanted the fair to be like a gigantic tent under which all of Miami's diverse community would be welcome," Kaplan says. "The best way to do that is to present a diverse array of authors." To achieve that end, MBF seeks out authors who have published with smaller presses and haven't been featured here before. "Our fair is one of the most culturally inclusive events anywhere," he notes.

Kaplan is particularly excited to welcome back legendary punk rocker Patti Smith, who will headline this year's fair. She will read from her new book, M Train. Smith, who was one of the few female members of New York's renowned 1970s punk scene, returns to memoir after the critical and commercial success of 2010's Just Kids. M Train is classic Smith, a mournful and nonlinear reflection on her life with her recently departed husband. It's peppered with tales of Smith's adventures, her penchant for traveling to off-the-grid locations, and her deep appreciation for poetry. An Evening With Patti Smith kicks off MBF this Sunday at 7 p.m.

M Train's poetic prose seems to be a theme among memoirists highlighted at this year's festival. Elizabeth Alexander, the Yale poetry professor turned memoirist, returns to Miami to talk about her book The Light of the World. Alexander's work, like Smith's, is a lyrical and melancholy account of the unexpected death of a husband; it's a reflection on sorrow and loneliness. Alexander will speak about her book, as well as the difficult process of writing, at the November 21 panel "American Lives." The panel will also feature Sandra Cisneros, the Chicana writer whose nonfiction has given voice to underrepresented women of color. Cisneros will talk about her latest, A House of My Own: Stories From My Life, a beautifully illustrated compilation of biographical and nonfiction essays.

Indeed, family, and reflections on it, occupies many of the women who have written memoirs in the past year. Friday, November 20, photographer Sally Mann will read from her highly praised Hold Still: A Memoir With Photographs. Mann explores her role as both artist and mother and reflects on the still-controversial black-and-white photographs she took of her children and reproduced in her 1992 book, Immediate Family. Mann's Hold Still explores the intersection of the personal with the political, a theme that undoubtedly runs through Meghan Daum's books of essays — My Misspent Youth and The Unspeakable — as well. Daum, a columnist at the Los Angeles Times, is a writer with a brutal scalpel, dissecting her ambivalence toward and disdain of the familial roles women are often expected to fulfill. Daum will speak about her books November 22 as part of the panel Cultural Explores: A Reading From Essays and Memoirs.

Daum, of course, won't be the only journalist at MBF. Music critic Jessica Hopper, a senior editor for the indie music site Pitchfork, will also discuss her book, The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. Hopper's firebrand approach and keen insight have earned her a sizable following, and her November 22 panel on the state of music criticism will no doubt be an interesting one [Editor's note: Hopper has since cancelled her MBF appearance after this article went to press]. Also of interest is Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter who notoriously claimed Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction in the leadup to the Iraq War. November 21, Miller will discuss her book The Story: A Reporter's Journey.

On the other end of the nonfiction spectrum are the historians, most notably Stacy Schiff and Karen Abbott. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Schiff will read from her fifth book — The Witches: Salem, 1692 — November 21. The Witches is a hefty and comprehensive account of the witch trials and hysteria that overtook 17th-century Boston. Schiff is a sensitive writer, and her narrative brings to the forefront the voices of women and girls who were the center of the trials. Abbott also comes to her historical narrative from a similar perspective, though her Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War is more of a study in heroism. Abbott will discuss her book as part of the Civil War Stories: Non Fiction panel November 21.

The fiction writers at MBF look just as promising as this year's nonfiction lineup. The highly respected and critically loved feminist writer Jeanette Winterson will read from her newest novel, The Gap of Time, a reimagining of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, Tuesday, November 17. The suspenseful novel begins in postfinancial-collapse London and investigates the intersections of greed and morality. Lauren Groff's third novel, Fates & Furies, similarly traces the issue of morality, transporting it to a story of an ostensibly happily married couple. Partially set in Florida's iconic tourist stop Weeki Wachee, Groff's novel is as lyrical as it is difficult. She will discuss her book November 22 as part of the panel Family Stories in Fiction. Sloane Crosley, writer of 2008's bestselling book of comical essays, I Was Told There'd Be Cake, will join Groff on the panel. Crosley will discuss her first novel, The Clasp, a story of a family with secrets and a precious necklace lost in Nazi-era Europe.

In addition to all of the women stopping in Miami for the week, MBF has made sure to include some homegrown talent. "Highlighting our local writing community is an extremely important element of our overall mission," Kaplan says. To that end, Jennine Capó Crucet will return to the 305 to talk about her novel How to Make Your Home Among Strangers. Set in Miami, the book tells the tale of American-born Lizet, the daughter of Cuban immigrants struggling to navigate between two cultures and family. Crucet will discuss the book November 21 as part of the panel New Fiction: Stories of Exile and Displacement. Fellow native and University of Miami professor Chantel Acevedo explores Cuban identity from a different angle. Her novel, The Distant Marvels, is a historic family saga. Set in 1960s Cuba, the story grapples with oppression and revolution, digging into the difficult yet relevant theme of forgiveness. Acevedo will read from her novel November 22 as part of the panel Fiction of a Place.

Upcoming Events

All in all, the book fair offers another strong array of the literary world's best talent. Like the city itself, the roster is filled with welcomingly diverse voices offering a wide-ranging view of working writers and genres. If this lineup is a vision of the future of publishing, it's a promising one.

Miami Book Fair 
Sunday, November 15, through Sunday, November 22, at Miami Dade College's Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami. Prices and times for events vary. Visit miamibookfair.com.

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Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus

300 NE 2nd Ave.
Miami, FL 33132



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