“Storytelling plays an important role in Haiti’s cultural life. We have a strong oral tradition, and I bet anyone from Haiti can tell you about that one Caribbean folktale or fable that helped shape the person they are today,” says M.J. Fièvre, the ReadCaribbean program coordinator at the Miami Book Fair. “For those who have been uprooted from the motherland, dislocated, being able to share stories that bring them home is a form of emotional healing... Many of these stories are about the strength in family and friendship, about the turbulence in our politics, about yearning for what was, what could be, what may never come.”
This year’s festival will include literary and poetry panels and workshops, children’s programming, and plenty of opportunities to interact with elements of Haitian culture and language. “Everything about the festival celebrates Haitian culture,” Fièvre says. “Haitian literature is at the forefront. So are Haitian music and Haitian cuisine. This year, many activities will center around the drum, which has always played a pivotal role in [Haitians’] history and everyday life... All our panels, all our workshops, all our art activities allow for dialogue. It’s all very performative — and Miami’s Haitian community craves the freedom that exists in opening the pathways of communication.”
The opening Saturday night of the festival, visitors can experience a performance of dancing, drumming, and samba poetry inspired by the work of Haitian storyteller and performer Kiki Wainwright, followed by a bilingual keynote conversation in English and Kreyol about the role of research in Haitian writing.
Sunday, kids can enjoy a full day of programming that includes a musical "petting zoo" where children can interact with various indigenous African and Caribbean instruments, experience a participatory dance performance by the Venus Rising Women’s Drumming & Dance Ensemble, and participate in arts and crafts activities.
Adults Sunday can attend a panel featuring four published women motivational writers who will guide a conversation about overcoming cultural barriers for female authors, an exploration of the art of Haitian cuisine and folk medicine, and an academic discussion on the theme of zombies and zombification in Haitian storytelling. Established and aspiring writers can participate in an ekphrastic poetry workshop led by Miami poet Yaddyra Peralta, a publishing seminar for first-time authors, and a tutorial on blending Haitian proverbs and comic-book illustrations.
Fièvre emphasizes the importance of the Little Haiti Book Festival for Miami’s Haitian community and those who are curious about learning more about the culture. "The festival serves as a point of cultural pride for Little Haiti, adding immensely to the cultural richness of the area," she says. "It brings thousands of people together to share a profound experience. It has become part of our collective identity and a needed catalyst for revitalization."
Little Haiti Book Festival. Saturday, May 5, and Sunday, May 6, at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, 5919 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-960-2969; littlehaiticulturalcenter.com. Admission is free.