Read any good books lately? For lit nerds and wordsmiths, October begins the real countdown to Miami Book Fair International (MBFI), which runs from November 15 through 22. For one week, the Magic City get its Woodstock, its Comic-Con, its World Series, its U.S. Open. Big names like Isabel Allende, Anne Rice, Junot Díaz, and Salman Rushdie have participated, as have food goddess Julia Child and pre-White House Barack Obama.
For one week, Miami becomes the white-hot center of the literary world, drawing local and international visitors alike. There's a street fair with book vendors from around the world, discussion panels, art, children's activities, and more. This year's "Evenings With" series includes Patti Smith, Jane Smiley, and Gary Snyder. Other big names, such as Sandra Cisneros, Margo Jefferson, and poet Major Jackson, will be in town.
But there's another category worth highlighting: the local author. Whether homegrown or transplanted, some of the city's best and brightest literary voices will be shown off at MBFI 2015. Though they're all worthy of your love and admiration, here are the locals we're most excited to welcome back to Miami.
Brand-new University of Miami creative writing faculty member Chantel Acevedo is back in town after years away, and she has close ties to the fair. "I grew up coming to the Miami Book Fair," she says. "It was very formative to me as a reader and to our community, and it made me see that being a writer was a possibility." Hialeah-born Acevedo's novels include Love and Ghost Letters and A Falling, and this year, she'll sit on a couple of panels as well as present her new novel, The Distant Marvels.
"I do have one vivid memory about the book fair that is pretty funny," she says. "Anne Rice was coming, and she was really big back then — I read all of her books. The whole day was epic, and it was the first time I got to ride the Metrorail by myself with a friend. We got there, and she was dressed all in black, with a black beret. And then I saw her hands, and she was wearing black nail polish — this was before it was trendy — and I remember thinking, That is so cool. She was the embodiment of gothic fiction."
Jennine Capó Crucet is confident in her return to Miami for her debut novel, Make Your Home Among Strangers, published this year. "I'm not too nervous about coming back with the novel, though I always get extremely nervous in the ten minutes immediately leading up to any reading I do," she says. "The best cure for this is to throw up, but I'd like to avoid doing that at MBFI if possible."
Perhaps the most emblematic Miami novel to date, the book deals with what it's like to be Cuban-American and the first in one's family to graduate from high school, grapple with the challenges of feeling "other," and leaving family behind to go to an elite school. Adding to the tension is Ariel Hernandez (a fictionalized Elián González), who arrives in Miami and throws the city into turmoil.
"I don't remember, actually, if I attended [MBFI] as a kid," Capó Crucet says, "but I do remember that my dad, who was an electrician, was part of the team that moved all the electrical underground on the downtown campus, and I remember him having to work Saturdays to make that happen on time, so we'd go down there as a family and hang out while he worked. Not exactly attending the fair, I know, but I like thinking of how my dad laid the groundwork for something that would eventually come to mean so much to me and my career, and for the city of Miami as a whole."
As the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history, as well as the youngest, the first Latino, first immigrant, and first gay person to serve in the role, Richard Blanco is a tremendous addition to MBFI. Born in Madrid to Cuban parents and raised in Miami, he's the author of memoirs, poetry chapbooks, and poetry collections. "The first time I went to MBFI was to see Sandra Cisneros," Blanco says. "That was more than 20 years ago, so I always connect the fair to her. One of the things I love about MBFI is that for authors, it feels like family coming together; no matter how big it gets, it's like a family reunion." This year, Blanco will present his recent memoir, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, serve on a panel about Cuban bloggers, and make other appearances.
Hometown hero Edwidge Danticat is a prolific writer, speaker, human rights activist, and editor. If you went to high school in Miami, chances are you read Breath Eyes Memory, and if not, there's also Krik? Krak!, The Farming of Bones, Claire of the Sea Light — the list goes on. This year, Danticat will participate in a panel on immigration, plus she'll showcase her new children's book, Mama's Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation, which came out in September just a few weeks before her new YA novel, Untwine. With gorgeous illustrations and a timely story about immigration and imprisonment, Mama's Nightingale is a must-read for children and adults alike.
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New Times columnist Luther Campbell has a fresh offering for the lit world: The Book of Luke: My Fight for Truth, Justice, and Liberty City. The book discusses African-Americans who paved the way for others in the entertainment industry, plus juicy gossip from his 2 Live Crew days. As Campbell acknowledges: "America has never been an easy place for a black man who doesn't know how to apologize." Check him out at the fair — you might be inclined to agree.
Fabienne Josaphat earned an MFA in creative writing from Florida International University, and her first book, Dancing in the Baron's Shadow, will be published in 2016. She also writes poetry and was included in So Spoke the Earth: The Haiti I Knew, the Haiti I Know, the Haiti I Want to Know, which was edited by another local author, M.J. Fievre. She will sit on a panel about Haitian literature.
Rounding out the hometown authors is Ana Menendez. A visiting associate professor at UM this fall, she is the author of several books, including Adios, Happy Homeland, and The Last War, and has worked as a journalist in the States (including the Miami Herald) and abroad. She will also be on the VONA/Voices panel.
Miami Book Fair International
November 15 through 22. Visit miamibookfair.com.