Best Author 2012 | Ana Menendez | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times

Ana Menéndez's fourth book, Adios, Happy Homeland!, is structured as a collection of stories by Cuban writers spanning several decades. Though the stories are presented as unrelated, each one slyly shifts into the next and the different voices build to a chorus trying to make sense of what it is to leave home. The book isn't about where people come from but where they go when their homeland ceases to be their own. One boy thinks Miami is "someplace in the sky" after his father "turned him to face the smell of the ocean and pointed up through the leaves, [saying,] 'Miami is that way.'" Elián González haunts several sections, but otherwise the book points outward from Cuba in as many directions as there are stories. Grifters import luxury chocolates instead of food for children, Miami office drones swap Castro speeches for cubicle-tacked slogans ("Become a possibilitarian!"), and men back in Cuba grow wings. Borges and Bolaño are obvious influences, and though Cuba is present on every page, this is a book of and about Miami. Menéndez spent years as a Miami Herald reporter and columnist, but she wrote most of this book in the Netherlands and continues to split her time between Maastricht and Miami. Her work offers a stunning glimpse of a city often too occluded by its own magic to be seen from within. It's an essential read for anyone who has forgotten the many ways Miami shifts to fit the dreams of its every new arrival.

Gregg Weiner is the only South Florida-based actor who has the stage presence and physical instincts to sink himself into the skin of such a force of nature as Mark Rothko, the brilliant Russian-born American expressionist who's the subject of John Logan's one-act, semibiographical play Red. With a shaved head and middle-aged paunch, Weiner was grounded yet forceful as Rothko — a man so fraught with conviction he can't help but bludgeon his young assistant with overbearing speeches about art and its role as myth in society. Rothko could be an imperious, domineering personality, but Weiner, with his artful baritone inflection, nuanced humor, and genuine humanity, made the ornery artist a likable and oftentimes sympathetic figure. It's not easy bringing a troubled genius to life before a live audience night after night. It takes a robust, bombastic, yet adaptable actor to become someone like Rothko, yet Weiner pulled it off masterfully, and the result was another triumph for GableStage.

Carl Hiaasen — South Florida's reigning king of fiction that's almost as unbelievable as local headlines — once said of his novels' bad guys: "I always try to burden even the villains with some weird predilection they have to cope with. It helps make them memorable and gives them a human side." Former drug smuggler Jon Roberts, who achieved an outlaw's fame when he costarred in the documentary Cocaine Cowboys, was as gleefully villainous as any literary character. He was a mob thug turned Vietnam War murderer — readily admitting to skinning Vietcong alive and killing village women and children — turned filthy rich and incredibly violent coke importer. He once eluded cops by kicking through the windows of two squad cars, while handcuffed, leaving a trail of hundred-dollar bills behind him. Hell, in 2009, he threatened the life of a reporter from this publication. But in his memoir, American Desperado, his co-author, accomplished war journalist Evan Wright, somehow dragged enough weird predilections out of Roberts to make the old, evil bastard sympathetic. At one point, Roberts, an unlikely animal lover, recalled his deep fondness for a glass room he constructed in his Delray Beach house. During wild South Florida electrical storms, he liked to lie there with his model wife, his 150-pound pet cougar named Cucha, and his killer dogs, and watch rain lash the glass. He had spent his teenage years as a bloodthirsty orphan after his mafioso dad was deported and his mother passed away. Roberts died in horrible, karmic fashion from the rapid spread of cancer a month after the memoir was published. But the sparely described image of him ensconced behind glass with his strange, makeshift family, marveling at the natural power of a storm, said something about the swaggering bad guy's perpetual loneliness. And, even more remarkably, about his vulnerability.

This year, the Miami Herald was a Pulitzer finalist for its series "Neglected to Death," about horrifying abuse and deadly neglect in Florida's assisted living facilities. The series was reported by Michael Sallah and Carol Marbin Miller — along with Rob Barry, who has since left the paper — and as a result of their yearlong investigation, 13 offending facilities were shut down and the state penalized nearly three dozen others. Lives were saved — lives of otherwise marginalized, voiceless, defenseless people like so many of the others whose stories were told in "Neglected to Death." Is there a better use of newsprint than that? As important as this series has been, it's worth noting that it isn't unlike the other work Sallah and Marbin Miller have produced during their careers. Sallah has won two Pulitzers for reporting on war crimes and public housing corruption, and Marbin Miller has done incalculable good in chronicling child welfare problems in the state. If you see either of their bylines above an article, it's a safe bet that what follows is essential reading that will reverberate in Florida well past the final punctuation mark.

Earlier this year, journalist Terence Cantarella re-created a two-decade-old experiment by legendary Miami New Times writer Sean Rowe. Like Rowe, Cantarella bought a canoe, launched it into Biscayne Bay, and navigated all of Miami-Dade County via its neglected canals. Instead of writing about the trip, though, Cantarella told his story primarily through audio. In Dade, there's only one place for that kind of radio storytelling: WLRN's narrative innovator, Under the Sun. After Cantarella paddled his way through the Biltmore Golf Course, battled hordes of mosquitoes, and discovered that locals are way friendlier than advertised (someone even left a cooler of cold beer out for him!), he told his tale on Under the Sun. It's exactly the kind of project the show has pioneered — from narratives about religion in Haiti after a devastating earthquake to a series of personal stories of real Miamians — and won numerous awards for, including an Edward R. Murrow prize and regional awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. Whatever story Under the Sun tells, we'll be listening.

Brindley "Bo the Lover" Marshall might not be the best-known radio personality in Miami, and he's certainly not the slickest, but he's definitely the hardest working and most consistent. The founder of Hot 97.7 FM ("The hottest, hypest radio station in South Florida"), which is by most accounts the longest-running underground station in Miami, can be heard at all hours of the day and night. In fact, if we hadn't heard him stumble over the same word on a few occasions, we might have figured he was broadcasting live 24/7. Highly regarded in the local hip-hop community for his early support of artists such as Trick Daddy, Trina, and Brianna, Bo the Lover has also been an indispensable asset to the local pirate radioscape. He emerged as a spokesman of sorts for airwave pirates after a 1999 FCC raid, which briefly shut down his station, and he's been a vocal supporter of Hot 97.7's home base of Liberty City, where he has led drives to raise money for families of murder victims. Perhaps most important, in an era of highly formatted radio programming, Bo the Lover is one of the few remaining DJs who emphasize spirited conversation and music in equal measure.

Sports talk radio is largely a vast, arid wasteland of vapid, mind-numbing obtuseness. Angry, failed, and washed-up athletes-turned-mike-jocks saturate the airwaves with meathead nonsense that feeds the bloated beast of sports cliché and celebrates antiquated and lazy-minded notions of sports myth and misinformation. But then there's Dan Le Batard and his afternoon drive show on 790 the Ticket offering a refreshing alternative. Yes, this is the same Dan Le Batard who wanted to get into the human element of Ricky Williams's abrupt retirement from the Miami Dolphins in 2004 when everyone else simply wanted to burn the running back in effigy. This is the same Dan Le Batard who can come across as a condescending, player-apologist, let's-make-every-topic-somehow-about-race know-it-all. But the Cuban-American University of Miami grad is also mostly right. And he's a fan of fun. Le Batard is as intelligent as he is silly — equal parts college professor and clown. And that's exactly why his is the highest-rated sports talk program on the radio from 3 to 7 every weekday. Along with cohost John "Stugotz" Weiner — who plays the perfect foil to Dan's academic, abstract, and nontraditional take on sports — Le Batard covers everything from Miami's pro and college teams to pop culture and animals. And it's his love of stats, intellectual discourse, and self-deprecating humor that make him a must-listen for all Miami sports fans. That, and his hilarious viral YouTube rants about the Miami Heat.

Every weekday, Ricardo Brown and Lourdes Ubieta provide Miami with a double dose of politics. Their show on Actualidad (WURN-AM, 1020) is like a cortadito to the cerebral cortex, skipping from local news to national and international politics so easily that before you know it, you've forgone your usual afternoon siesta and actually learned something. Unlike many Hispanic radio personalities, however, they don't ignore Anglo or African-American Miami. Case in point: They interviewed Miami New Times columnist Luther Campbell last year when he ran for mayor. On a recent show, Brown, a Cuban who has won four Emmy Awards and traveled more widely than Anderson Cooper, discussed the Trayvon Martin killing with a leading Miami attorney. In his warm, deep voice, Brown expressed disbelief that Sanford police had threatened journalists reporting the case. "How are they going to arrest you for sending an email to a public figure whose information might be important in a death investigation?" he asked. "As far as I know, asking questions is still legal in the United States." Alongside Brown, Ubieta's rapid-fire, Venezuelan-accented commentary and incisive wit come in handy for fielding the dozens of calls the duo takes on the air every day. Together, they're a doble espreso de noticias instead of that weak, watered-down stuff on other stations.

Djanet Sears's meticulously complex Harlem Duet is a provocative play that deals with race, sex, and mental illness in the black community. When the M Ensemble performed the play in March, the troupe turned to University of Miami drama professor Lowell Williams to take on the challenge of bringing out all of the show's multifaceted and nuanced layers. Williams, who holds a master's degree in psychology from Kent State, took an eclectic and talented cast and coached it into performing one of the finer dramas on a Miami stage in some time. The ever-modest Williams swore that his cast, made up of veterans such as John Archie and up-and-comers such as Ethan Henry, made the play excel. But tackling subjects such as interracial marriage and sexual politics in the African-American community takes a strong hand steering the production. Williams's direction was particularly crucial for the role of Billie, a woman dealing with a deteriorating psyche, played by Christina Alexander (not coincidentally our winner this year for Best Actress). "I told Christina that she can't play both sane and insane at one time," Williams said. "I told her not to get caught up in trying to bleed them together. A lot of actors make the mistake of playing competing emotions at the same time." The result was an outstanding performance from Alexander and a powerful, resonant production from the M Ensemble.

With all the handwringing that University of Miami fans were doing last year, they might have missed a historic, lineman-shredding effort by their sophomore running back. While former booster Nevin Shapiro was promising to destroy UM football and a decidedly mediocre 6-6 season unraveled on the field, Lamar Miller accomplished something no Cane had done in nearly a decade: topping 1,000 yards on the ground. (The last guy to do it? You may have heard of Willis McGahee.) In Miller's first season as a starter, the five-foot-11, 212-pound Miami Killian Senior High grad stiff-armed his way to seven different hundred-yard games, bashed in nine touchdowns, and finished with 1,272 yards on the year. Sadly for the orange-and-green, soon after his final game, the 20-year-old wrecking ball tweeted a farewell to the U — "It was a blessing to be a Miami Hurricane," he wrote — and declared for the NFL draft. Let's hope someone at Dolphins HQ took note of the righteous ass-kicking Miller left on the field in his last year in Coral Gables.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®