Five Authors to Catch at Miami Book Fair 2020, According to Filmmaker Billy Corben

Billy Corben
Photo courtesy of Miami Book Fair
Billy Corben
Billy Corben sits in front of his computer in his Miami home, a spot he’s grown quite accustomed to in the last seven months while working remotely. During this time, he’s traded in his usual short and spiky coiffure for longer locks. He runs his fingers through his hair to show just how long it's grown.

The filmmaker finalized his latest documentary, 537 Votes, all remotely while never needing to be in the same room as his editor, story producer, or composer.

“It was a really surreal post-production,” Corben tells New Times speaking via Zoom.

He'd better get used to it, because when he takes part in the Miami Book Fair this month, he'll be doing so from home. For the first time in its 36-year history, the fall cultural staple is going all virtual.

“A big part of the thrill of the Miami Book Fair is that it is an [in-person] event, and it really makes downtown feel like a cultural center for those seven days,” Corben says.

Despite the lack of human contact at this year’s event, Corben acknowledges that the adjustment comes with a few perks — namely: It’s all free. All talks are free and open to the public, with an impressive list of more than 300 participating authors. Staging the entire fair online allows for a broader audience for authors, and, for attendees, the chance to participate in more discussions.

“If it were not remote, I would probably not see as many of these folks,” Corben admits. “It’s actually opened up the Book Fair for me that much more.”

Literary icons such as Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Ford, Dean Koontz, and U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo are all slated to promote their books. Actors and entertainers Natalie Portman and Colin Jost will also be in attendance virtually. And more than 40 authors inspired by life in Florida, including Miami natives Richard Blanco and Alex Segura, will participate this year.

On Monday, November 16, Corben, an expert on all things Miami, will lead a conversation with author Nicholas Griffin about the latter's latest book, The Year of Dangerous Days: Riots, Refugees, and Cocaine in Miami 1980.

“Shout-out to whomever at the Book Fair thought of me for this gig — really good casting,” says the Cocaine Cowboys director. “I always quote T.D. Allman’s Miami City of the Future, where he espoused the hypothesis that you’ve probably heard me say in the past that the Miami of today is the America of tomorrow. When I repeat that, I think about two years in particular. I think about 1980, and I think about 2000.

“Interestingly, I made a documentary about 2000 [this year], and now I get to talk with Nicholas [Griffin] about his book, which is about 1980.”
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Terry McMillan (left) and Chuck Palahniuk
Photo courtesy of Miami Book Fair
Aside from his own event, Corben is looking forward to seeing a bevy of authors.

For starters, “Who doesn’t want to hear a Lenny Kravitz origin story?” the filmmaker asks rhetorically. The musician, actor, and now author will be presenting his latest nonfiction work, Let Love Rule, on Friday, November 20.

“I’m actually very much interested in reading his autobiography about the first 25 years of his life,” Corben says.

Nelson George, a prolific journalist turned nonfiction author turned filmmaker turned fiction author, will appear  on Saturday, November 21, to discuss The Darkest Hearts, the most recent novel in his D Hunter mystery series.

“I’m ashamed to admit I don’t read a lot of fiction anymore,” Corben says, citing his busy schedule and his abiding interest in nonfiction. “But I’m very familiar with Nelson’s nonfiction work.”

Corben and his filmmaking team at Rakontur interviewed Nelson in 2013 for the VH1 rock documentary miniseries The Tanning of America: One Nation Under Hip Hop.

“The guy has an encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop music, culture, and New York going back decades," Corben says. "He’s just an incredibly smart and funny and multitalented guy.”

Another well-known name on Corben’s list is author Terry McMillan.

“I haven’t read her new book yet, but you see her name on the list, and you’re just like, ‘Oh shit, well, I gotta go watch that,’” Corben explains.

Many of McMillan’s books have been adapted into films, most famously How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Waiting to Exhale, and Girls Trip. The author will be speaking about It’s Not All Downhill From Here in conversation with Gloria Edim on Thursday, November 19.

Then there’s the Science Guy himself, Bill Nye, speaking on Saturday, November 21, about his latest book, Bill Nye’s Great Big World of Science, in conversation with his co-author, Gregory Mone.

“On the one hand, I’d love to go see Bill Nye live, but then it’d probably get sold out, and you wouldn’t be able to get into the room,” Corben says.

The upside to a wholly virtual event, according to Corben, is that there's no seating capacity, meaning everyone will have the opportunity to learn from the Science Guy.

Although author Chuck Palahniuk has written more than 30 distinct works, he’s most recognized for his 1996 novel Fight Club.

“I’m not embarrassed to admit that I came into Fight Club through the movie,” Corbin admits. “I think that’s not entirely rare. There’s a synergy between books and their film adaptations and movies have helped to fuel the literary world. [Movies] help to pique people’s interests and leave them wanting to explore those worlds and characters more in the books.”

Catch Palahniuk discussing his latest fiction thriller, The Invention of Sound, on Sunday, November 22.

“The Book Fair comes close to having something for everyone,” Corben says. “There are events in multiple languages and for multiple demographics, and there’s always a celebrity factor, so even if you’re not a book nerd, you’ll still enjoy the fair.”

Miami Book Fair. Sunday, November 15, through Sunday, November 22; Admission is free.