Knights Arts Challenge Finalist O, Miami Hopes to Expand Publishing House

O, Miami is no stranger to the Knights Arts Challenge. In 2011, the non-profit organization was awarded funding to bring a month-long poetry festival to the Greater Miami area, and used unusual methods to ensure people encountered prose every day in April, from odes on public buses to artist Agustina Woodgate's "poetry bombs" sewn into thrift shop clothing tags. Now, as a 2014 finalist, O, Miami seeks funding to bring all the literary elements together in its own publishing house, Jai-Alai Books.

"We've been working on an idea for a press basically as long as O, Miami has existed, and before, when we were University of Wynwood exclusively," said founder and director P. Scott Cunningham via email. "It was always something I've personally wanted to do, and it finally felt like the right time to do it."

According to Cunningham, Miami is long overdue for a literary press. O, Miami's publishing house hopes to produce great books that are accessible to a general audience and that speak to Miami.

See also: Knight Arts Challenge South Florida 2014 Finalists Announced

"We've accrued a lot of experience since 2008 in examining how people, not just writers, interact with literature," Cunningham said. "O, Miami is one long experiment asking the same question: Does literature matter, and if so, how and why? The press is the next step in that experimentation, and I think it's perhaps the most important step."

If awarded funding, much of the $20,000 prize will go directly toward printing costs. A larger chunk, however, will aid in the distribution and production process of the publications. Cunningham says this project will start its journey in Miami, following the same path as the poetry festival and O, Miami's literary magazine, Jai-Alai.

"We're going to spend way more than most publishing houses, even really big ones, on ushering our books into the world. All of our O, Miami knowledge is going to inform that process," Cunningham said. "So there will definitely be overlap between all of the different things we work on because in the end, it's all in service of Miami's literary culture. It's all part of the same idea."

The first publication of Jai-Alai Books is Forager: A Subjective Guide to Miami's Edible Plants. Written by Tiffany Noé and George Echevarria, the book is a colorful photographic guide that features 42 different species of edible plants, as well as tips, histories, advice, and warnings.

Get the latest on this year's Knight Arts Challenge at KnightArts.org.

Follow Shelly Davidov on Twitter @ShellyDavidov.

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