Miami Book Fair 2023 Blog
Join us in person or from afar
EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog is posted with newest items at the top of the left column. Some panels are available online, even after the Fair, and we've linked to those panels below.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 5:34 PM
While I knew that the Swoonworthy Spice & Everything Nice panel on Young Adult rom-coms would probably attract a large crowd, I didn’t expect to have to wait 40 minutes in line just to get into the room! Fortunately, I managed to get a good seat, but the Art Lab in Building 1 was packed, and I even saw people standing at the back wall the entire time.
Moderator Safon Floyd was joined by Keah Brown, Laura Taylor Namey, Ali Hazelwood, and Ebony LaDelle for an energetic and entertaining conversation full of laughter and camaraderie between the authors.
Floyd had a whole treasure trove of questions, including one about the upsides and downsides that come with success. Namey responded with, “the best of it is all of you [the fans],” which received a loud chorus of awwww's. Hazelwood added how time is a finite resource, and the way that people choose to spend their time reading their books is always special.
On the last question, Floyd warned it would be a hard one, and then asked how the authors would convey the essence of love only using one book, song, film, or any other creative outlet. Caught off guard, the authors had to take a few minutes to formulate their answers, with Namey exclaiming in mock outrage, “I protest against this question!” Nonetheless, their answers were received with more awwww’s, gasps, and agreements, such as with Brown’s answer, “Last Hope” by Paramore, and LaDelle’s answer, “All About Love: New Visions” by bell hooks.
After the panel, the book signing was held in the Children’s Alley, and I had to spend another 30 minutes or so waiting in line. It was all worth it, though, as Hazelwood signed my copy of Check & Mate while we spoke enthusiastically about Taylor Swift. I also gave her a friendship bracelet (as us Swifties are wont to do), and I noticed the gifts those in front of me had left her, which included a wooden lightsaber bookmark and little Love on the Brain book earrings.
All in all, this was a satisfying conclusion to the weekend, and I’m happy I was able to attend one last panel with one of my favorite authors!
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 5:27 PM
I loved wrapping up my Fair at the Into the Unknown: Expedition Stories panel, where the three authors shared fascinating details about travels across the world.
Brad Fox told us that, in the very earliest bathysphere explorations into the deep sea in the 1930s, they had to peer through tiny, thick quartz windows to see the unknown sea life of the depths. Because photography through the windows was impossible, they brought sketch artists a kilometer down to draw the newly-discovered species! His The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths covers the earliest decades of deep-sea exploration, and reveals "the ocean as habitat, and as a material repository of our human history."
From the deep sea to an isolated island, Adam Goodheart's The Last Island: Discovery, Defiance, and the Most Elusive Tribe on Earth details his research into North Sentinel Island. You may remember the island for going viral in 2018, after the islanders killed an Evangelical missionary, but Goodheart wasn't surprised, given his decades of learning (and multiple close approaches) about the island and its totemic significance as what many see as the final isolated community on Earth.
Gregory Wallance introduced us to 19th-century journalist George Kennan, commissioned to explore Siberia and investigate Russia's mass exile of prisoners there. Into Siberia details his harrowing journey, and transformation from "a friend of Russia" to America's first critic of the punishing system of exploitation he had seen firsthand. Wallance read a moving passage about the brick pillar marking the boundary of European Russia and Siberia, where exiles would weep and kiss the ground of a homeland they knew they would never see again.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 5:10 PM
Regrets department: Book Fair sessions I most wish I could have attended but was literally conflicted.
◇ Simon Winchester on Knowing What We Know: The Transmission of Knowledge (I’m a fan).
◇ Mark Kurlansky on The Core of an Onion (I’ve read Salt and Cod and wanted to complete the recipe).
◇ Keith Ellison on breaking the cycle of police violence (a seemingly intractable problem).
◇ The New York: Undressed panel on drag and burlesque in the Big Apple (session switched days on me).
◇ Harold Hughes on A Kids Book About Blockchain (because truly frightening—see coverage of the crypto panel).
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 5:00 PM
Takeaways from and thoughts about this year's Book Fair:
◇ Returning to the Book Fair post-COVID wasn't scary.
◇ Take it easy and don't overstrain yourself trying to go to as many panels as possible. (Read the ones you missed on this blog!)
◇ Restaurants/cafes that sell guarapo should start combining it with other flavors, particularly fruits.
◇ I enjoyed bumping into familiar FIU faces, former classmates and professors. It made me realize how truly I miss my time at FIU and the people I met there.
◇ The MDC folks who helped save the Street Fair this year are amazing and deserve huge accolades.
◇ Don't forget to bring water!
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 4:55 PM
Final walk around the Fair was just in time to catch the end of The French Horn Collective set at Off the Shelf. Their inimitable rendition of “Take the ‘A’ Train” turned it into high-speed rail.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 4:50 PM
The beloved poet Maureen Seaton recently passed away in August of 2023. Local South Florida poets Denise Duhamel and Nicole Tallman hosted a memorial reading for Seaton. Fourteen poets read and shared stories about Seaton, from encouraging new poets outside of academia to lending her poems to fledging journals. The most emotional moment of the reading was when Gregg Shapiro rose to read. He held up a picture of himself, Seaton, and Denise Duhamel. He started to read with his voice breaking. His voice steadied as he read the poem, “After Sinead O’Connor Appears on Saturday Night Live, the Pope.” But others in the audience wiped away tears. At the end of the reading, the poets took a group photo and then hugged each other in joy and in grief.
◇ Nicole Hospital-Medina, a collaborative poem
◇ Jen Karetnick, "Planes Fly in Formation over the Backyard, as in War Movies," from Sweet World
◇ Mia Leonin, "Astronomy," from Little Ice Age
◇ Michael Mackin O' Mara, "Sweet World," as first published in SoFloPojo and later in the book of the same name
◇ Gregg Sharpio “After Sinead O’Connor Appears on Saturday Night Live, the Pope,” from Furious Cooking
◇ Julie Marie Wade, "Elegy in Thirteen Winds," from Cave of the Yellow Volkswagen
◇ Nicole Tallman, "Save Yourself for Better Times," from The Sky Is an Elephant
—Yael Valencia Aldana
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 4:44 PM
Actor Ben McKenzie discussed Easy Money: Cryptocurrency, Casino Capitalism, and the Golden Age of Fraud. When encouraged to invest in cryptocurrency, McKenzie “fell down the crypto rabbit hole,” not as an investor but as a skeptic. He teamed with journalist Jacob Silverman to try to understand how such a classic Ponzi scheme could catch on widely—noting the influence of duped celebrity spokespersons. Crypto is not as advertised a democratized investment vehicle, but rather a centralized cartel. The casual investor is under water, holding on and hoping, and bragging to his friends that he’s made a mint. In summary, “the crypto emperor is butt-ass naked."
Writer and film producer Jonathan Tapin describes a dangerous quartet in The End of Reality: How Four Billionaires Are Selling a Fantasy Future of the Metaverse, Mars, and Crypto. All four have “an internal logic of control,” thinking they know how the world works and what the future holds. Elon Musk thinks we can escape earth’s troubles by going to Mars. Peter Thiel thinks we’ll live to 200, though few of us have the resources to get regular blood transfusions from 15-year-olds. Marc Andreessen is behind crypto, NFTs (average value approaching zero), and autonomous killer drones. Mark Zuckerberg thinks we may all be unemployed but happy in our virtual headset worlds.
Tapin said we’re in a kind of interregnum. The old world (that MAGA wants to return to) is gone, and the new one (where the marginal cost of additional AI becomes negligible) is unclear. We need to figure things out without following the fake-Libertarian billionaires’ lead. “Transhumanism is the most dangerous idea in the world."
The two authors eviscerated the opposition. And absurdity can be hilarious, as when the conversation turned to Miami’s own crypto ambitions: Miami coin, a crypto mayor, an erstwhile crypto arena, and a crypto bull sculpture (on the Miami-Dade College / Book Fair grounds and, as McKenzie pointed out, actually a crypto steer, lacking certain equipment). But I left the session asking, “Why am I laughing?” My last Book Fair session ended on a worried note.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 4:40 PM
Got in the lengthy Richard Blanco/Campell McGrath signing line with my copy of Blanco's Homeland of My Body. If I could, I'd go back to the Books & Books table to buy all of Blanco's and McGrath's books.
I know they'll most likely present at the Book Fair again in the future, so I'll make sure to have a few of their books with me by that point.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 4:13 PM
At the "On Fame and Friendship" panel, Campbell McGrath explained that 30 years ago, when he started teaching at FIU, Richard Blanco, his fellow panelist, was his first student at the university. Now, they're colleagues at FIU.
Blanco, who was studying engineering when he wrote McGrath a letter asking to join the poetry class, was, as Blanco said, "wet behind the ears" when it came to poetry. His first assignment in McGrath's class was to write a poem about America. Blanco ended up writing about Thanksgiving and not wanting to eat pork—a Cuban staple in many family gatherings—on the holiday.
Twenty years later, Blanco was approached to be the inaugural poet for then-President Barack Obama. He needed to write a poem about America. Blanco contacted McGrath to say, "Hey, this is the same assignment you gave me!"
Blanco would end up reading his "One Today" poem at the 57th Presidential Inauguration in 2013.
In reference to Blanco's Thanksgiving poem written for class, McGrath stated that the more unique a person's story is, the more universal it actually is.
Later when speaking about day jobs—McGrath being a full-time professor and Blanco having been a full-time civil engineer before becoming a professor—McGrath said when a person realizes the thing they love (in this case, creative writing) isn't going to pay the bills, it's actually liberating because the capitalist machine isn't controlling one's creativity.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 4:02 PM
The "On Fame and Friendship" panel with Richard Blanco and Campbell McGrath started with each one reading several poems. Blanco read four poems from his Homeland of My Body: New and Selected Poems and McGrath read two poems from his Fever of Unknown Origin, plus four poems not yet published.
Both ended their readings with a poem they wrote about their respective spouses. They did not coordinate on doing so; it was a happy coincidence.
Blanco said his book, which deals with home and identity, came from the pandemic, reaching middle age, and surrendering to the ideas of home, trauma, and art. McGrath, in reference to one of the poems he read, stated he would've liked to have been a historian.
At one point during the reading portion, I was so hyperfocused or perhaps captivated—I will not say by which poet as to not make the other envious—that I almost forgot to photograph the speaker. Then I wondered, should I start reading poetry?
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 3:53 PM
This biography panel demonstrated the very different ways to tell a famous person’s story. Scott Eyman’s Chaplin vs. America: When Art, Sex, and Politics Collided is in regular narrative format, covering a controversy-filled 14 years of Charlie Chaplin’s career. It began when he defied Hollywood and America's isolationist sentiments to satirize Hitler and take on fascism in The Great Dictator. It ended after a decade of government surveillance and harassment by the press when Chaplin’s visa was illegally revoked, but rather than fighting it an angry Chaplin moved to London.
Adrian Matejka’s Last on His Feet: Jack Johnson and the Battle of the Century is a full-length graphic-novel-style depiction of the first Black heavyweight boxing champion and his most famous title defense, against Jim Jeffries in Reno in 1910. The book is explicit about the racial abuse heaped upon a man accomplished in many ways who dared defy convention and speak up for himself.
Pablo Brescia’s Diego Maradona: A Socio-Cultural Study is a collection of (I take it commissioned) academic articles, written for general readers, exploring the widespread influence of the Argentine football/soccer legend as a cultural object. In novels, music, movies, and even feminism and religion—it was, after all, the ”Hand of God” goal.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 3:41 PM
When moderator Mari Martinez Serrano asks about research and inspiration, illustrator Monica Magaña (Doña Quixote: Rise of the Knight) says she drew from the imagery of her visits to Aguascalientes, Mexico. She said textual research on Mexican folklore was tough as "lots of lore has been wiped out by colonialism."
Angela Cervantes (The Cursed Moon) says "I went overboard on research. I was obsessed with jaguars for six months... I started to believe there was a jaguar wandering my neighborhood!"
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 3:25 PM
My final panel of the day is "On Fame and Friendship: A Poetry Reading and Conversation with Richard Blanco and Campbell McGrath."
As a fiction writer and reader, I don't think I've ever even been to a poetry panel at the Book Fair. I've been to poetry readings before—it's hard to avoid them if you major in creative writing and have friends who are poets—but just not at the Book Fair, instead opting for fiction and the occasional non-fiction panel.
However, my tutoring center at the Wolfson Campus, the Reading & Writing Center, hosts the Behind the Author Series presentations where we examine writers MDC students might encounter in their English composition, literature, and creative writing courses. One of the authors we've covered is Richard Blanco, so I thought it appropriate to attend his reading since we just presented on him back in September.
Knowing that both Blanco and McGrath are popular poets, I decided to beat the crowds and buy a copy of Blanco's latest book, Homeland of My Body: New and Selected Poems, before going into the auditorium where the reading/conversation will take place.
After checking that Blanco's poem "América" was one of the selected poems included in the new collection—it's such a great poem about the Cuban-American experience en el exilio with food as its main lens—I paid the Books & Books representative and made my way into the auditorium.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 3:24 PM
A quote still ringing in my ears from poet Major Jackson, who shared a reading and conversation with fellow poet Nicole Sealey earlier this afternoon: “I think it’s important to have a restless imagination, and a restlessness to your craft.”
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 3:23 PM
Scott Eyman points out what made Charlie Chapman special. From the start, he financed his own films, retaining full ownership rights and being beholden to none of the Hollywood powers. And, distinct from his contemporaries, he was “comedian with a moral and social point of view who engaged with his times.”
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 3:22 PM
I make my way across the Fair, hoping to make it to my last panel for the day, "On Fame and Friendship: A Poetry Reading & Conversation with Richard Blanco and Campbell McGrath." Years ago, I sat in the audience of a much smaller room and listened to Blanco lyrically describe my childhood, and that of most Cuban-American Miami kids I'm sure. So, I sit in the auditorium now, excited to hear that familiar voice from Blanco's poems.
Later during the panel, McGrath shares several lovely short poems that cheer the room. Of these, my favorite line is, "physics is not the dog's strongest subject." I will forever be a sucker for any poem about pets.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 3:20 PM
The Through the Looking Glass: Adventures in Alternate Universes started short a couple of expected authors. One, Ryan Calejo (The Shape of Time), was reportedly stuck on Alligator Alley. "Gosh, I hope the alligators don't get him!" said panelist Monica Magaña, to laughter from the youthful audience.
Magaña said she sees herself in the main character of her graphic novel, Doña Quixote: Rise of the Knight, who dreams of becoming a knight until she finds a magical helmet that lets her perceive the world of fantasy around her.
Early in her career, co-panelist Angela Cervantes, who wrote "books about cats and dogs" as well as American Girl novels, kept encountering kids who told her "There aren't enough scary books!" This inspired her to craft her horror fantasy novel The Cursed Moon, in which a boy brings a ghost to life by, against his grandmother's advice, telling a scary story during a blood moon.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 3:17 PM
As I sat waiting for the session Miami Legendary to start, I wondered why was it was legendary and how was it legendary. I have followed Andrew Otazo on Twitter for years, and his tongue is firmly in his cheek. I was prepared for the unexpected. But I didn’t expect to see Otazo and Mario Ariza sitting behind their panel table dressed as a croqueta (a deep-fried Cuban treat).
The croquetas were flanked by the other panelist, Caroline Cabrera, director of education for O, Miami, and WRLN reporter Daniel Rivera. Cabrera and Rivera were not dressed as croquetas.
After the introductions by the Book Fair representative, the panelists turned to the croquetas and laughed. The panelists started by reading their various works. They then spoke to what narratives they would like the world to know about Miami beyond the stereotypes of Miami as a sex, drugs, and beach playground. Otazo noted that the most well-known stories about Miami are not written for Miamians. Rivera wondered what would be left for future others to discover if Miami goes underwater. Ariza noted that we tell our stories to teach ourselves about ourselves. Cabrera said that people are waiting to tell their stories, and we just need to listen.
As the conversation progressed, Otazo recounted his path to publishing his book. His book is an irreverent tale about the creation myth of Miami, representing the city's ethnic diversity. He received a lot of good feedback from established publishers, but that the work was too niche which he felt meant too ethnic. So Otazo did what he said immigrants and immigrant children do: They work five times as hard for five times as long to get where you would be if the powers had given you a chance in the first place.
Then the question turned to what did they want to see for Miami. Rivera wanted to see Miami have a special designation like DC because of its uniqueness. He said, “Miami doesn’t get a lot of respect.” And he turned to look at the croquetas.
Otazo, who also regularly hauls pounds of trash out of Florida mangroves, wants to see an onion of natural protection for the Miami coast, reefs, thriving mangroves, dunes, and natural plants. He noted that these protections naturally work better than what the Army Corps of Engineers could come with.
Ariza wanted to see more affordable spaces in the city but said we advocate for these changes ourselves. He noted that Miami has one of the lowest civic participation rates in the country, and we can’t expect the government to save us.
Cabrera ended the conversation by noting that children are the best writers. She clarified that she didn’t mean for children but are best of all writers. And she read this short poem by one of her students. My neighborhood is a community, and a community is a church.
—Yael Valencia Aldana
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 3:12 PM
Okay, so my 2 o’clock panel ended close to 3 and I had about 30 minutes before my next panel, so I rushed over to the food court to see what I could grab (again).
At the SugarCane King stall, “Fresh Pressed Sugarcane Juice,” they’re selling sugarcane juice, or guarapo, with other flavors, including watermelon, coffee, and soursop.
Growing up drinking guarapo, I’ve never seen other flavors added to the drink, so I was intrigued. I love guarapo and watermelon, so I decided to give the combo a try.
The guarapo is truly fresh because you see the workers feeding sugarcane stalks into the enormous juicer and the stalks coming out flat and dead, their substance squeezed out into a few ounces of juice.
The watermelon essence—don’t know where the watermelons were squeezed—was in a squirt bottle, which was used to pour red liquid into my cup of plain guarapo. The red sat prettily on top of the green/yellow sugarcane juice before I stirred it, an action I was told at the stall I needed to do before drinking it.
It was so good! It mainly tasted of watermelon, which was fine by me.
Having already eaten a yakitori from Kabukisoba, I didn’t want to buy a whole meal, but not wanting to get something small from an unfamiliar place with little time to waste, I went back to Kabukisoba and bought another chicken thigh skewer.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 2:33 PM
Wow. Lauren Roberts (Powerless) self-published back in February of this year to later be picked up by Simon & Schuster.
Her story reminds me of what I heard over ten years ago from Christopher Paolini at the Book Fair (back again this year): he, too, self-published his first book and it was later picked up by a publishing house.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 2:25 PM
When talking about their writing process, Lauren Roberts (Powerless) said she gets psyched by looking at her outline to get excited to write.
Alex Aster (Nightbane) puts her phone in another room to avoid getting distracted. (Not a bad idea!) She added that writing is the opposite of social media: there's no instant gratification.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 2:16 PM
Amélie Wen Zhao, Lauren Roberts, and Alex Aster at the "Trials, Traitors, and Temptations" panel are discussing various topics, including fan theories and what inspired them to write.
Roberts stated there are Easter eggs on the cover of Powerless, flowers that have meaning and relate back to the story.
Aster, answering whether fan theories affect her writing, said that what did affect her were readers' responses to her character Cleo in book #1 of the Lightlark series. She was surprised readers liked Cleo, but Aster decided to add more of Cleo in book #2, Nightbane.
Zhao (Song of Silver, Flame Like Night) said fan theories haven't caused her to change her story.
On what inspired the panelists to write, Aster stated she was trying to chase that feeling of reading Twilight, The Hunger Games, and The Divergent series when she was writing her own stories.
Roberts likes to put her fantasy characters in mundane situations.
Zhao was inspired by Chinese fairy tales. She mentioned that East Asian stories sometimes employ the concept of "dark love" where love isn't voiced, but it's subtle and can be as simple as a look or fingers accidentally brushing.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 2:12 PM
I’m clearly on the non-fiction beat at this year’s Book Fair. Joseph Sassoon presented family business history in The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire. In the mid-19th century, David Sassoon and family decamped Baghdad for Bombay, and with his 14 children (daughters included) as business ambassadors, built a trading and financing empire stretching from Shanghai to London. Sassoon described it as the first information- and network-based international enterprise.
Across four generations, family rivalries grew and family members became more interested in London high society than in working hard and working together. Sassoon said the ultimate disintegration of the empire was almost as rapid as its rise.
Daniel Schulman discussed The Money Kings: The Epic Story of the Jewish Immigrants Who Transformed Wall Street and Shaped Modern America (there’s no understatement in these book titles). In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a set of Jewish immigrants—including Jacob Schiff, Marcus Goldman, Abraham Kuhn, Solomon Loeb, and Henry Lehman—started firms that indeed shaped the centralizing banking system.
Many began as traders, then retailers, importers, and then financiers following the civil war. In addition to backing major undertakings of the day, including railroads, they extended the financing available to startups (Western Union) and small enterprises that grew big (Sears, Woolworth). In the process enabling more Jewish immigration and opportunity.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 2:10 PM
At "Trials, Traitors, and Temptations: YA Fantasy Superstars," authors Amélie Wen Zhao (Song of Silver, Flame Like Night), Lauren Roberts (Powerless), and Alex Aster (Nightbane) discussed how their book series came to be.
Zhao explained that for her it was a combination of many things, including her grandparents, the political turmoil of her country (China), and the love and joy of her people. Her Song of the Last Kingdom series came to her during the throes of the pandemic.
Roberts's Powerless trilogy is a "mosaic" of what she likes in books. She said that since her protagonist has no power, it's like using an "UNO reverse" card on the character. Somehow, though, I have a feeling that by the end of the series her protagonist will have power.
Aster mentioned that she wrote a version of her first book during her last year of college. Unfortunately, it was published in 2020, which, as she pointed out, was not a great year for a debut author to get published.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 2:09 PM
A moment of joy overheard at the Street Fair: "Wow! A first edition! ...and it's signed!"
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 2:03 PM
I’m at my second panel of the day: "Trials, Traitors, and Temptations: YA Fantasy Superstars." One of its authors is missing: Shelby Mahurin. No word as to why she's not here.
I always love hearing about the latest YA/fantasy books in the market, and these particular book series—Song of the Last Kingdom, Powerless trilogy, and Lightlark saga—seem to be extremely popular because this room is packed. Late comers are having to stand in the back.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 1:30 PM
Found out from a Book Fair employee that the Fiction Made From Facts panel that was originally scheduled for today at 1 PM was moved to yesterday at 5 PM due to a scheduling conflict for one of the authors.
I’m also realizing that a skewer with three small chunks of chicken and a handful of popcorn was perhaps not the most filling of lunches. I think I might have to stop by the food court again.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 1:25 PM
Daniel Schulman said, “Peddling on the streets of New York was the Harvard Business School for Jewish boys.”
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 1:04 PM
Dodging parked strollers as I make my way through Children's Alley, I pause briefly at the Read & Chill Lounge. The comfy seating is filled with kids ready to listen to Marta Magellan read from Just Wild Enough: Mireya Mayor, Primatologist. This despite the competing sounds of the Participate stage and Off the Shelf coming from each direction, from which the thin tent walls give little respite. Alas, my hearing isn't quite good enough from my position at the back, so I move on to my next task: browsing the Street Fair vendors ahead of discount time later this afternoon.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 1:01 PM
The moderator opens the panel with a brief thank you to sponsors of the Book Fair and proceeds to introduce the two authors. Aimee Gibbs, author of The Carnivale of Curiosities, reads a short excerpt from her book in which one of the main characters, Aurelius Ashe, is introduced. She has me at "a tale of Faustian bargains," as the moderator put it, and I add her book to my Must Buy List.
The reading shifts to Deena Mohamed, author of Shubeik Lubeik. Given that her work is a graphic novel, she discusses the story rather than read it directly. Mohamed explains that her story is set in a world where wishes are a commodity, bought and sold, their quality based on their price tag. She is the author, illustrator, and translator! After years at the Fair, when I see an author discuss their work with as much joy as Mohamed has, I know the book is worth picking up. Another one on the Must Buy List.
I walk out of the panel and straight into the room across the hall to purchase both books.
Sunday, Nov.19, 2023, 12:59 PM
“The Ghosts That Haunt Us” panel’s title beckoned me and many others to Building 8 on Sunday at noon. Three novelists, who’d organized to share their time fairly, made clear that the ghosts in these books were active parts of their tropical worlds, nothing like old-school sheet-draped shapes.
John Manuel Arias’ Where There Was Fire builds upon a suspicious 1968 fire at an American Fruit Company banana plantation in Costa Rica, focusing on family members still reckoning with their dead and missing decades later. Arias read a passage about Hurricane Tomas, “to balance the fire,” showing Teresa and her grandson Gabriel placating distinctive ghosts, and adding, “Then there are the living dead. Teresa sees one the second day of the hurricane, made from coal, full of rain and algae: he’s a thawed prehistoric animal.”
In A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens, Raul Palma introduces us to Hugo, a Bolivian-American who is when we meet him an imposter priest, paid to rid the homes of others of spirits he doesn’t believe in. He’s a recent widower sunk in debts from his wife Meli’s medical care, which swell as interest accrues faster than he can pay them off. She’s alive (I think) in the excerpt Palma read, and despite Hugo’s disbelief, ghosts are part of their surroundings. In public they feel invisible pressures. (Don’t we all?) And later, Death gets in bed with him and hugs him. In all this, the novel’s tone is rueful and amusing, promising readers an enjoyable journey.
A wealthy family and extreme poverty are juxtaposed in Trinidad in the 1940s in Kevin Jared Hosein’s Hungry Ghosts. The novel is preceded by a list of its Main Players, some of whom are described as “deceased,” but in the context of this session I realize that doesn’t mean they aren’t active. In an excerpt Hosein read, when the other members of her prosperous family have disappeared, the daughter hires Hans, a very poor man, as a guard. For the first time he gets the experience of sleeping on a bed, and he doesn’t want to go home after that, making vivid how any of us living can also cling to and haunt others.
When asked about ghost stories that may have influenced them, Arias, citing Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Dickens, says, “I use ghosts, magical realism, and a reminder of what’s been buried.” Palma quips, “I’m in direct conversation with A Christmas Carol,” and then cites reading Tananarive Due’s stories and seeing her get celebrated as having inspired him. Hosein says what he writes about is “not part of a genre for me, really.” He focuses on the past that’s buried, seeing ghosts as a way of bringing this up, along with domesticity and religion. “I like my horror very pulpy, like Stephen King,” he adds.
At the session’s end, I joined others flocking after the writers to the Books & Books set up across the hall to buy copies and have them signed. When carrying mine off, I paused, thinking about any signature as a kind of mark we leave.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 12:55 PM
By far the longest signing line I saw at the Fair was for Ali Hazelwood at the Steamy Lit romance booth. At least 35 people were in line 10 minutes before the start of her 12-1 signing slot, and there were still 20 in line as the hour neared its close. Reportedly non-stop in between, and the enthusiasm at the signing table was contagious.
Hazelwood is at the Fair for panels on her new novel Love, Theoretically and her new YA romance Check & Mate. Her non-novelist job is professor of neuroscience.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 12:54 PM
Sooooo the 1 PM panel I wanted to attend at The Art Lab in Building 1, first floor—Fiction Made From Facts: A Conversation with Sharon Cameron and Maruchi Mendez—is not listed on the poster outside the room with today’s panels. And sure enough, it’s not listed on the Street Fair Weekend Schedule, which has the most up-to-date schedule (when compared to the Fair Guide booklet).
Now I have to figure out what to do for the next hour before the 2 PM panel I had listed as a Maybe becomes a Definite.
Since I forgot to bring water and then forgot to buy water when I bought food half an hour ago, I’m going to first hunt for a vending machine that still has water bottles.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 12:49 PM
In response to a child's question, Michele Oka Doner (A Seed Takes Root) gives some great advice: "You should make friends with every tree in your neighborhood." Will do!
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 12:36 PM
Having eaten my yakitori of chicken thigh—super tasty!—I decided to get a free sample of popcorn at the Jolly Time tent to finish off my lunch.
I have some time to kill before the 1 o’clock panel I’ve decided to attend in Building 1, so I made my way up to the second floor of the same building to get out of the sunlight and eat my popcorn. From this view, I can see how busy the Children’s Alley is with children creating crafts, street performers on stilts, and musicians on a small stage.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 12:33 PM
Introducing the illustrious artist and author Michele Oka Doner, her longtime friend Dan Gelber says, "We are both children of Miami Beach mayors, which makes us siblings." Oka Doner adds another to their family: "I call this tree our sister," she says of the century-old banyan that is the subject of her book, A Seed Takes Root: A True Story. Years after it first sprouted from a Javanese seed in 1926, she played in the tree as a child, at a time when it was about the size of the presenters' table. If you visit the giant today it covers an acre and a half of land!
The conversation between Gelber (celebrating the end of his term as Miami Beach's mayor) and Oka Doner flowed naturally as, behind them, pages from the book were shown, combining Oka Doner's beautiful calligraphy and artwork crafted on handmade paper.
"Without trees," Oka Doner reminds us, "there is literally no life. Life doesn't happen in the grocery store, it's outside the door."
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 12:25 PM
Having only drunk a matcha latte for breakfast today, hunger was settling in after my first panel, so I made my way to the food court. On Friday, I ate a beef empanada from a Puerto Rican stall. (The little sauce they gave with the empanada was very delicious.) Today, I want to try something different.
Walking around and looking at the huge selection of options—can’t remember the last time I saw these many options at the Fair, or perhaps this is the first time—I found in a corner a Japanese stall called Kabukisoba that sells yakisoba bowls and yakitori.
However, they are sold out of yakisoba! And they no longer have pork belly. I decided to go with a skewer of chicken thigh meat instead.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 12:16 PM
At Jack Ampon, you can find some funky stickers, earrings, pins, hats, bookmarks, notebooks, and even wooden carvings featuring characters from well-known fandoms, including Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Looney Tunes, and The Simpsons.
The Gift Genie has cute tumblers. One, which caught my attention, features a woman reading a book. Around her the text reads, “Emotionally attached to fictional characters.” Girl, me too.
Moomo Studio is selling tote bags, ornaments, keychains, and mugs, plus pillow covers that say “Book Nerd” with book inserts. A funny print on many of the items for sale is “[WTF] Welcome to Florida.”
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2023, 12:02 PM
Got my copy of When Trying to Return Home signed by fellow FIU MFA alum, Jennifer Maritza McCauley!
Great seeing you, dear friend!
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 11:54 AM
How does a privileged and only son define himself when living under the shadow of a famous and beloved father who died relatively young and who in contrast had to struggle to achieve prominence and success?
For Luke Russert, reckoning with this question required walking away from a successful network news career and embarking on a three-year journey around the world. He’s the son of Tim Russert, the long serving moderator of NBC’s “Meet The Press.” His father died of a heart attack in 2008 when he was 58. At the time, Luke Russert was 22.
“I wanted to see who I was independent of my last name,” Russert said while talking about his book Look for Me There: Grieving My Father, Finding Myself.
But before the journey came the epiphany that sparked it. It happened in Congress in 2015, in the office of John A. Boehner, then the Speaker of the House. By then Russert had been working at NBC for eight years.
“What are you doing here?” Russert says that Boehner asked him.
Russert, who said he was feeling empty and unfulfilled despite getting plenty of accolades from colleagues for breaking stories, apparently didn’t have a good answer.
“You’ve got to learn something else,” Boehner also said, according to Kara Vogt’s Washington Post article about Russert’s memoir. “You can’t just live in the political bubble your entire life, because there’s no ‘real’ there.”
After his meeting with Boehner, Russert said he had a conversation with himself and concluded that he had earned a break from his career. “You’ve proved you can do this. You can take time to yourself and perhaps leave this gilded path,” he said.
Starting in 2016, Russert visited many countries, reportedly 67, including Argentina, Bolivia, Thailand, and Cambodia, to name a few. He said he learned to become comfortable with uncertainty as he prioritized finding a place to eat and somewhere to sleep.
But then he had another epiphany. Constant travel could become a form of delusion and a kind of trap, as it dangled the possibility of true enlightenment just around the corner, perhaps if you could only get to the next country on the itinerary.
He said he wondered if he was traveling so much merely because he could, thanks to having the required freedom and resources (in other words, he couldn’t really discard his privilege, whether in D.C. or anywhere else); or for escapism; or for another kind of status, apart from his career, as he racked up the travel miles.
“That freedom can become a noose,” Russert said. “You can hang yourself with too much of this freedom.”
He said that his mother Maureen Orth, also a renowned journalist who had been initially supportive, said, “That’s enough. You need to get back to work.”
“I wasn’t being the best version of myself,” Russert said.
On the bright side, while he traveled, Russert kept a journal. After reviewing the notes that he would use for his book, he realized that they contained two separate but connected journeys, one about grief and the other about self-discovery. He also had to confront a deep sense of inadequacy because he simply hadn’t had to fight for his place in the world in the same dramatic way as his father, who was the son of a sanitation worker and who had put himself through college and law school.
In time, Russert said that he realized that his father wouldn’t want him to become angry or sad at the mention of his name. He wouldn’t want him to be unable to move forward. On the contrary, he would want him to be happy. He also gave himself permission to be his own person. That’s when he knew he had found peace.
—Roberto J. Manzano
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 11:50 AM
I had a tough choice between panel options for the opening slot on Sunday, which falls at 11 AM, an hour later than Saturday (presumably to give Fairgoers a little time to sleep in after the fun of yesterday!). I decided to go for a panel on dystopian fiction.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah started his reading from Chaing-Gang All Stars with a footnote from the US penal code on torture, appropriate for a book about a for-profit prison that forces its prisoners to fight to the death for the televised entertainment of the masses. Asked about the seed of his novel, "I tried to write a short story," he says, "and I overshot it by a couple hundred pages."
Jinwoo Chong's Flux was inspired by the fall of Theranos. He "loves a Silicon Valley scam story," but was inspired to give it a science-fiction twist, as his protagonist lands a job at a corporation that is using time travel for nefarious purposes.
If I Survive You doesn't quite fit as a novel, and yet isn't just a set of linked stories, says author Jonathan Escoffery. He had neither written nor read much Miami fiction before he began the book, which follows members of a Jamaican family in the city. He warns other writers that "when you spend your life reading books about elsewhere, unless you have the conviction to write about what you see around you, you'll find yourself copying the style of everywhere else."
I'm glad I picked this panel to kick off my last day of the Book Fair!
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:49 AM
Writers interviewing fellow writers has been the go-to format for many bookstore events in recent years, but I’ve also noticed that writers who host podcasts are popular choices for moderators here at the Fair. Yesterday, author Dani Shapiro interviewed poet Maggie Smith (and mentioned that the segment will be edited to become a bonus episode of Shapiro’s podcast, Family Secrets).
Likewise, poet Major Jackson, who hosts the podcast The Slowdown, was in conversation yesterday with Ross Gay.
Today, Shapiro served as moderator again, this time for a panel featuring Priscilla Gilman and Luke Russert.
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:45 AM
At "Short Stories: An Exploration of Home and Longing," the conversation has turned to the medium of short stories and why choose that medium to write in.
Jennifer Maritza McCauley (When Trying to Return Home: Stories) explained that with a short story, there is a maximum impact in a small amount of space. It's a "significant moment" in a person's life.
Alexandra Chang (Tomb Sweeping: Stories) said her love of fiction came from reading short stories.
Halle Hill (Good Women: Stories) added that she heard family stories as short stories, a patchwork of stories. Like Chang, Hill also works in the tech industry, so she has to write during her lunch breaks and needs to be brief.
An audience member asked why the general reading public isn't into short story collections as much as it is with novels. Hill said there is satisfaction in a novel because it has a resolution. Historically, short stories don't always have a resolution.
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:44 AM
Michael Grunwald introduced Jeffrey Toobin (Homegrown: Timothy McVeigh and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism) as “the great legal mind of the journalism profession.” Grunwald was an excellent interviewer, asking straightforward questions on focal topics in a sensible order that helped showcase the book.
Why write about the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing now? Toobin noticed a common player in the 1997 McVeigh trial (which he’d covered) and the attempted kidnapping of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer—the “Michigan militia.” And then was alarmed by the January 6 insurrection. Bill Clinton had recognized the bombing as the work of a new form of “homegrown" terrorism, and potential terrorists were now legion.
What was wrong with McVeigh? "There was something evil in him, but he was also shaped by common forces." Parents’ ugly divorce, shortage of traditional “good jobs,” failing the Green Beret candidate test, obsession with guns, racism honed in the military, tuning in to Rush Limbaugh, being in today’s terms incel. McVeigh was angry about the failures in his life, he read The Turner Diaries, and he followed the bombing recipe.
Why aren’t there more bombing incidents? Because homegrown terrorists don’t need to assemble bomb makings when they have assault rifles. The other big change is that they have the internet as organizing mechanism and fuel. Pre-internet McVeigh said, “I knew there was an army out there, but I couldn’t find it.”
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:38 AM
An audience member at the "Short Stories: An Exploration of Home and Longing" panel asked the authors when they knew they wanted to be a writer and what they'd be if they weren't.
Jennifer Maritza McCauley said she was a messy child and didn't like cleaning up her room, so, as a kid, she passive aggressively wrote "Pig Girl" and presented it to her mother. As for what she'd be if she wasn't a writer, she would've liked to have been an ice skater.
Halle Hill was going to be Presbyterian minister, but changed her mind at the end of her time in college. She would want to be a farmer, but she doesn't like to wake up early.
Alexandra Chang didn't think being a fiction writer was stable, so she became a journalist, which she didn't like. She now works in tech. Her dream would be, however, to run a cat shelter on a big plot of land.
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:33 AM
My first panel, "Short Stories: An Exploration of Home and Longing," started with all three authors, Alexandra Chang (Tomb Sweeping: Stories), Jennifer Maritza McCauley (When Trying to Return Home: Stories), and Halle Hill (Good Women: Stories) reading from their debut short story collections.
McCauley read from a story influenced by her experience moving to Miami years ago. Hill read about a woman who can't go home and is traveling with an older, sick man she met online. Chang read a very short excerpt of a story in which a woman has inserted herself into another family.
Moderator Siham "Sam" Inshassi stated that she'd misread the panel's title, reading "longing" as "belonging," and using this, as she called it, "psychological slip," she asked the panelists about home, longing, and belonging.
McCauley said that her characters are trying to find home not only in physical spaces but in people.
Taking "good" from Hill's title, Inshassi asked about characters chasing goodness.
Hill said that in her stories, black women can "sin boldly." She asked how many mistakes make a person bad? To her, being "whole, honest, and striving" makes a person good.
McCauley said her book is full of villains.
Chang agreed with Hill that striving is good enough. To Chang, characters who grapple with what is goodness the most show that they care.
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:27 AM
Jeffrey Toobin: “Writing about today’s Supreme Court is more depressing than writing about the Oklahoma City bombing."
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 11:13 AM
The panel Macabre Fiction: Female Body Horror started off strong with the redefining of what exactly genre is and the limits the word imposes, and only went up from there. Moderator Mitzi Rapkin was joined by K-Ming Chang and Jade Song as they explored female body horror, horizontal ancestry, and the complicated relationship to the idea of longing. Unfortunately, Joyce Carol Oates was unable to attend due to a missed flight.
Truthfully, it’s difficult to condense my 5 pages of notes and quotes that I hastily scribbled down here! I will say that, at one point, Chang said, “everyday life is horror. Picking your hair out of the shower drain is horror. Brushing your teeth in the mirror in the morning is horror.” A round of laughter and begrudging agreements followed.
After Rapkin asked about horror in relation to normalcy and how, many times, it’s juxtaposed against safety and security, Song said that “what others might view as horror might be normal to you… writing about shame is freeing.” I saw a lot of nods and pensive faces after that comment.
During the audience Q&A, one person asked if the authors had any advice for young writers. In their responses, both Chang and Song emphasized the importance of being a part of a community and being surrounded by friends. Chang also said that writing allows room for grief and anger, and that the latter is an alchemical force that can change the world.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 11:05 AM
After sitting for a few minutes, the moderator explains that Joyce Carol Oates will not be joining the panel, and while I am bit disappointed, I stay to hear the other authors: K-Ming Chang and Jade Song. Both discuss their views on horror in general and female body horror in particular. I had never really considered the horror of everyday life the way that they explained: horror in brushing your teeth, in combing your hair. It was interesting to hear!
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 10:43 AM
Back for another day! I make my way out of the parking lot and hustle toward the first panel for the day featuring Joyce Carol Oates.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 10:35 AM
Since my first panel of the day isn’t until 11, I decided to walk around, and I returned to Books By Britton.
A colleague had already informed me of the mini bookcases for sale at Books By Britton by the time I visited the booth on Friday, so I only focused on the bookcases. Today, however, I noticed they also sell miniature Playbills and individual miniature books placed in little corked jars.
They also have a Jane Austen bookcase that I completely missed on Friday!
I want to create a Charles Dickens-themed Christmas tree this year—I’m in the planning stage—and I noticed A Christmas Carol Christmas tree ornament—a small corked bottle enclosing the mini book—that would go perfect on my Dickens-themed tree.
I asked whether there were any other ornaments holding other Dickens books. I was told no, but since they had an offer for buying two ornaments, I grabbed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for when I decide to redo my Harry Potter-themed Christmas tree.
While I go around saying I love books—which is true—what I really love and have loved since I was a kid—even before I got into reading—is stories. Books, movies, TV shows, plays, and, yes, musicals, too. Obviously people typically think of music when they think “musical,” but a good musical, in my opinion, still needs to have a defined plot and compelling characters.
So, I looked at all the little Playbills on display—Books By Britton also has a BOGO on the tiny jars—to find any of my top three musicals (in no particular order): Fiddler on the Roof, The Book of Mormon, and Les Misérables.
After failing to find any of them, I asked. This time, asking paid off. Both Fiddler and Book of Mormon were found in a Ziploc bag holding spares and, very quickly as I paid, my two Playbills were glued to corks before being enclosed by small glass jars.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 10:18 AM
Although I have perused through stalls the Fridays of the Street Fair since 2021 (plus 2019), I have not attended an in-person panel since 2019. Today, I’m back.
I’ve been blogging about the Book Fair for this site for at least the last ten years, and, when I started, I remember trying to attend as many panels as I could without resorting to a time machine, lamenting the fact that such technology didn’t exist.
It’s 2023, however. I am older, wiser, and more tired, so I’m going to take it easy. I definitely plan on attending one panel at 11 AM and another at 3:30 PM. There are three panels between the two Definites that are intriguing, but I know I am not going to attend all three. I’ll see how the day progresses.
And just like the olden days (a.k.a., pre-pandemic), I am ready to tackle the day with my essentials: bookbag, umbrella, phone, portable charge, a copy of the Fair Guide … I forgot to bring water!
Guess I’ll have to fork over money to keep myself hydrated.
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 10:15 AM
I think I recall retail banks with booths at the Fair, but not financial and retirement planners like Guerra Financial Group. Local organization, family owned, fiduciary, and been around over three decades. The Book Fair demographic may be a good fit (though South Florida skews younger than the state at large).
Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, 9:16 AM
The authors promoting their own books on Writers Row are set up early. Always fun to survey the titles. As usual, plenty of kids’ books, notably Sneakers are for Sneaking and Ice Cream from the Sky.
No shortage of self-help, for example, Pivot—Because Life Doesn’t Always Go as Planned, and How to Become the Total Human.
Some with divine assistance: God Said What?! and Ten Affirmation Verses of Kids: A Bedtime Story.
There are straightforward titles: Veronica Abrams: Collection of Short Stories.
And roundabout ones: Lines of Evidence: How Recent Science Infers the Existence of God—A Forty-Day Study of the Biblical Story (Volumes I & II).
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 7:45 PM
Plenty of writers draw character inspiration from people they know. Few of them can lay claim to one of those people being Prince. Enter Susanna Hoffs.
While best known as the lead singer of the 1980s band the Bangles, Hoffs was at the Miami Book Fair to discuss her first book, This Bird Has Flown: A Novel. As she told an enthusiastic crowd at her 6:00 PM session, she gave one of her characters "qualities that Prince had, like his supernatural guitar playing."
Unsurprisingly, interviewer, pop culture critic (and former Miami Herald journalist) Evelyn McDonell asked Hoffs how much of the book—which is about a singer-songwriter who had early success—was based on her own life. "A probing question—I like it!" Hoffs replied with a smile, before explaining that her protagonist was a fictional invention. Notably, Jane Start was a "one-hit wonder," she said. "And you're a many-hit wonder," McDonnell added.
Halfway through the hour, Hoffs brought out a guitar and performed two of those hits—"Manic Monday" and "Eternal Flame."
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 5:59 PM
Just walked out of David Zucker's panel with Dave Barry. I have been a huge fan of the films he co-wrote and co-directed ever since I was a kid, growing up on films like Top Secret! and Airplane so I was incredibly excited for this panel!
It was a blast filled with laughter and excellent insight on the nature of the deadpan comedy Zucker's films portray and excel at. A great experience!
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 5:54 PM
My favorite scene from the 1980 film Airplane! is arguably a throwaway scene. Come to think of it, many of the movie’s famous scenes are throwaways that don’t necessarily make sense or move the story forward, but are hilarious and irresistible while also seamlessly working within the overall plot.
In a flashback, Ted Striker (Robert Hays), a fighter pilot, is recovering in a hospital during the war, presumably the Second World War. When his girlfriend Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) asks what’s wrong with a fellow soldier moaning nearby, he explains the man's PTSD this way: “Severe shell shock. Thinks he’s Ethel Merman.”
Sure enough, the real Merman, wearing pajamas, gets up from her bed and begins singing “Everything’s Coming up Roses” from the musical Gypsy, until attendants restrain and sedate her. (The credits list Ethel Merman as Lieutenant Hurwitz.) “War is hell,” Striker says.
Asked by an audience member about the scene, David Zucker said simply, “For some reason, we thought Ethel Merman was funny.”
Throughout the presentation about his book Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane! (co-authored by his brother Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams, the writing and directing team behind the film), Zucker emphasized an unconventional sense of humor that animated the filmmakers. “We didn’t think comedies were funny. We thought serious movies were funny,” he said.
That philosophy helps explain why they chose Zero Hour!, a 1957 black and white drama, as inspiration for Airplane! It also underscores their decision to cast B-List actors (who were not considered comic actors), instructing them, Zucker said, to “play it as if you had no idea you’re in a comedy.”
Zucker argued that Airplane! resonated with audiences because it adhered to a traditional three act structure, just like the drama that it parodied. The film was made for about $3 million and made about $160 million in its initial release.
In contrast, when the same team released Top Secret! four years later, it bombed. (When a member of the audience called it a flop, Zucker said that he preferred calling it a “cult classic.”) Despite its abundance of jokes, Zucker attributed its failure, in part, to the lack of a traditional structure featuring a protagonist with a serious problem to confront and conquer.
In Airplane!, Striker has to transcend his fear of flying a plane again after his traumatic wartime experiences. In other words, jokes aren’t enough, Zucker said. You need a story.
—Roberto J. Manzano
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 5:17 PM
The poetry reading, Reframing The Portrait of The Poet, was a ferocious reading with the poets Mahogany L. Browne, Chen Chen, Sam Sax, and Marilyn Chin. There was no moderator, and the poets quickly decided to read round robin until, as Sam Sax said, “It wasn’t fun.”
Sax lead off, reading from his book, PIG: Poems. He was a powerful reader. Mahogany L. Browne followed, reading from her collection, Chrome Valley: Poems. Browne was an astonishing reader. Her voice never rose above a conversational tone, but she channeled a Toni Morrison level of power. Marilyn Chin switched up the energy, reading an unwieldy, fun, but profound poem from her book, Sage: Poems. She involved the audience, who happily repeated a refrain with her. Chen Chen was a quieter but no less powerful reader. He read from his newest collection, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency: Poems. His poems display a unique skill of mixing humor with pathos.
In the next round, Sax, who is Jewish, read a newer anti-Zionist poem that addressed the conflict in Gaza. Browne also read a newer poem. It was an example of her own poetic form, the murmur. Chin next read a longer poem about fruit that somehow addressed Paul Gauguin’s problematic version of colonialism and the fact that an onion is not a fruit. Chen also read a newer poem about receiving a long-awaited apology from his mother for her homophobia.
With nine minutes left, the poets fielded questions from the audience. As the event concluded, I overheard more than one person say this was the best reading of the Fair so far. I agree. It was one of those readings that echoes well after it is done. And Chen’s shoes were definitely the best I have seen at the Fair.
—Yael Valencia Aldana
Saturday, Nov. 19, 2023, 5:00 PM
By pure luck I happened to see the sign for "Fiction Made From Facts: A Conversation with Sharon Cameron and Maruchi Mendez," just outside the entrance to the Art Lab at a corner of Building 1's first floor. This session didn't appear in my Book Fair guide. And (see Nov. 20) FBR's Giselda Aguiar had seen ahead of the Fair that it was to be at 1 PM on Sunday, so that when it was not listed for then or another time, she naturally assumed there was no session. But I luckily saw the sign and slipped in just as the session started.
We were a small but interested group in the Art Lab, which has a theater set up with excellent acoustics. The authors spoke about their novels and read from them, offering two different takes on the use of true events in fiction.
Mendez's Song for Olivia draws directly from her own family's history, starting the action in Havana just before the point when Castro's rise to power will overturn the world of 12-year-old Mari, her older sister Olivia, and her till-then prosperous family. The consequences will play out across decades, but, as Mendez's reading demonstrated, the foregrounding of personal relationships draws us close, so that we are reading how characters who we understand as real people respond to what are to them freshly shocking, challenging experiences.
Cameron's latest historical novel Artifice centers on Isa de Smit, whose family's Amsterdam art gallery has been closed by Nazis who deem the art there "degenerate." To get the money to pay their taxes, Isa sells a fake Rembrandt drawing (executed by her father), and the purchaser is Hitler. The plot twists further as Isa seeks to aid a friend's work smuggling Jewish babies out of danger and so resolves to make and sell an even more valuable fake work of art. This plot, too, daring as it is, has a nonfictional origin point, from which Cameron has invented.
I left the Art Lab thinking about how the how these are the kinds of heroines' journeys that I read in novels starting when I was about Mari's age. And a crucial element of them is centering women's alliances.
Continued in the next column...
The FBR Blogging Team
James Barrett-Morison (Reporter and Editor)
Giselda Aguiar (Photographer and Reporter)
Yael Valencia Aldana
Roberto J. Manzano
Lynne Barrett (Florida Book Review Editor)
2023 Miami Book Fair In-Person & Online
The 2023 Fair came back bigger and better than ever, featuring both in-person and virtual events! You can see the full 2023 schedule and learn about the in-person and online events at https://ww.miamibookfair.com/welcome-to-miami-book-fair/
Some in-person events are available to watch online after the Fair. You can find a list of online events from this and prior years at https://www.miamibookfaironline.com/browse/
Certain events require tickets to be guaranteed seating. Most in-person events are free with Fair admission, and virtual events are free and can be watched after the fact as well.
To find information on all of this year's events, check out the downloadable fairgoers' guide via the MBF website.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, continued
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 4:38 PM
Mark Kurlansky says he chooses his subject matter to show there's a "difference between something being common and something being ordinary." Following past books on cod and salt, he chose onions this time because they may be common, but "the reason they're everywhere is because they're extraordinary."
Kurlansky shared many morsels from his book, In the Core of an Onion: Peeling the Rarest Common Food. Did you know onions are flowering plants, and numerous onion flower varieties are traded at the famed Dutch flower markets? You might not, because if you want the onion to be edible, you harvest it before it flowers, and if you want the flower, the onion "doesn't taste very good anymore."
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 4:23 PM
Exciting and thought-provoking, the panel “Literary Waves" explored the unique perspectives and complexities of the respective homelands of Patricia Saunders, Claire Jiménez, Raul Palma, and Micki Berthelot Morency.
After each author read an excerpt from their book, an animated discussion took place upon the history and ins and outs of Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica, as both audience members and panelists chimed in with questions and answers. The conversation wove from displacement to the immigrant right to return to their home country and then to body modifications.
At one point, Morency said, “I’m an American citizen on paper, but Haitian in my heart.” It resonated deeply with me, and I think it's a sentiment shared among many of those living in diaspora, whether they're Haitian or from another country.
During the book signing that took place after the panel, I had the opportunity to briefly speak with Palma as he signed the copy of his novel, A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens, which I had bought a couple minutes before. I shared that I was also a 2nd Generation Cuban-American who also grew up in Westchester, Florida, and felt seen in his novel and in his journey as a writer. It’s always a freeing feeling knowing that there are people out there who share your experiences!
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 4:15 PM
“One delayed flight changes a panel.”
Author Kyle Dillon Hertz was discussing his thoughts on dialogue and how one little thing can change everything when he made this reference to an unfortunately absent John Freeman, the editor of literary journal Freeman’s, whose delayed flight to Miami prevented him from helming the panel, “Celebrating Freeman’s: Conclusions—A Conversation with Andrew Holleran” at 2:30 PM.
Initially billed as a special guest, Hertz, whose debut novel, The Lookback Window: A Novel was influenced by Holleran’s work, wound up with more air time on the panel, which began with readings by Hertz and Holleran, whose latest novel (his first new book in sixteen years), The Kingdom of Sand, centers on an unnamed gay narrator who moves to Florida to take care of his aging parents.
Stepping in for their missing moderator, Holleran suggested he and Hertz take turns interviewing each other, and Hertz offered a question sent to him by Freeman about Holleran’s take on the short story form. The answer: “All I want to do right now is read Henry James stories,” Holleran said, also claiming that it is somewhat of a mystery why there isn’t as much of a market for short stories today.
The remainder of the panel was a warm and amiable conversation that covered the aforementioned dialogue, the importance of narrative voice, the camp joy of the TV show Will & Grace, and the perils of basing characters on people you know.
Freeman was missed, but Hertz and Holleran handled the change of plans with poise and good humor.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 4:14 PM
I enjoy a good memoir panel because I leave it feeling that life is fascinating after all. Thomas Swick described Falling into Place as his coming of age story as a travel writer, a geo-political tale of Poland in the late 1970’s, and a love story of the beginning of his (sometimes long-distance) relationship with his wife.
Will Schwalbe’s We Should Not Be Friends recounts a forty-year friendship that began in a college secret society that purposefully brought together an assortment of totally unlike people. It’s an extended lesson in overcoming preconceptions and developing trust, starting with trusting the new (and hungover) friend's motorcycle skills.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 3:36 PM
“The women of Latin America are living a renaissance of the word.”
The panel regarding the anthology Daughters of Latin America began with many birthday wishes to Sandra Guzmán, editor of the anthology. The moderator, Soledad O’Brien, introduced Guzmán, along with the contributors Elizabeth Acevedo, Esmeralda Santiago, and Anjanette Delgado. What followed was an insightful, funny, and heartfelt conversation on the intricacies of being a woman from Latin America, and how these authors navigated through their own experiences in their writing.
While putting together this anthology, Guzmán mentioned that she specifically wanted to uplift the voices of indigenous Latinas, Afro-Latinas, queer Latinas, and Puerto Rican women.
Santiago said that, when writing about Puerto Rican culture, she wants to “make sure our lives exist in literature in the United States, to make sure that we’re not invisible. It’s not a weight, but an honor to speak about.” I think this is a common sentiment many Latin American writers in the U.S. share—I know I definitely do!
After opening the floor to questions from the audience, one person asked if, while writing, the authors think in English or Spanish, and if they live in one language or the other. Delgado's response got the audience roaring with laughter—she lives in both, learned to curse in both, but sex is exclusively in Spanish.
Unfortunately, I had to leave a couple of minutes early, but I still had the chance to snag a copy of the anthology on my way out the door!
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 3:33 PM
Thomas Swick said that travel writing can be so special because it crosses genres—narrative, essay, history, lyric, and of course memoir.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 3:14 PM
The Friends of the Book Fair lounge is again in the Tuyo restaurant space on the eighth floor of building 6. Great place to retreat from the Street Fair fray, enjoy food and refreshments, admire the view, chat, and blog. New wrinkle this year is a grab-and-go option on the ground floor for those hustling between sessions.
Become a Friend, support the Fair, and enjoy a perk.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 3:00 PM
Just walked out of the Dave Barry, Adam Mansbach and Ben Pukert panel. Full of laughs and wonderful insight on the writing and craft of "tragic comedy"!
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 2:53 PM
I stopped by the Everglades National Park booth at the Street Fair to ask about the health of the Everglades' wildlife—particularly the Florida Panther. The Ranger on duty told me they were doing well and that their numbers had substantially increased from a low of about 50 in 2019 to about 200 individuals. The profile of the Florida Panther recently got a boost from the National Geographic film, The Path of the Panther. The news is good but imperfect: a new mystery disease is taking its toll, and panthers are continually lost in car collisions.
A curly-haired boy, about five, elbowed me out of the way to touch the panther skull on the table in front of us. He touched the skull next to the panther’s and demanded to know if it was an alligator’s or a crocodile’s. The Ranger turned his attention to the boy. “It’s an alligator,” He said. “Notice how narrow the snout is.” I ceded the Ranger’s attention to the boy and nodded my thanks.
—Yael Valencia Aldana
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 2:33 PM
After a long morning of book browsing and panel listening, I make my way to the Food Court with my husband in tow. On the menu today:
◇ Coconuts (with their water)
◇ Ice cream and milkshakes
◇ Paella (chicken or seafood, dealer's choice)
◇ Fried Chicken and Po' Boys
◇ Birria Tacos (or quesabirria if you prefer quesadillas)
◇ Burgers and Hot Dogs
◇ Salchipapa (sausages over French fries for the uninitiated)
◇ Grilled Meats
◇ Juiced Sugar Cane (as the gentleman next to me discovered, it is indeed quite sweet for sugar cane)
◇ Make-Your-Own Rices Bowls
◇ Stuffed Mofongo (green plantains, mashed, fried, stuffed, and sprinkled with Carribean soul)
◇ Frozen Lemonade (you have to buy one; it's tradition)
We settle for a quesabirria and a frozen lemonade and make our way toward Children's Alley because I realize we have little hope of finding a table in the Food Court.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 2:32 PM
Stona Fitch started his description of his new novel Death Watch by showing the audience the nearly all-black cover. He says, "It's dark on the outside, but not as dark on the inside!" combining science fiction with humor and the intricacies of the high-end watch world. He decided to take a usual item, a watch, and push it to its logical extreme—an avant-garde artist invents a watch that, at any moment, can kill you.
Matthew Southworth, illustrator of The Cloven and its new sequel, The Cloven: Book Two, let us know how Seattle-centric the graphic novel is. "To you Miamians it must seem exotic!" But, co-writer Garth Stein pointed out, it deals with many issues that overlap with our lives here, including homelessness, biological engineering, global conspiracy and murder. Inspired by real-life goats genetically manipulated to borrow part of their DNA from spiders, their books also push to a logical conclusion, of a billionaire experimenting on humans by cross-breeding them with goats. "This is the main character," Stein introduces, "he's part-goat—on his mother's side."
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 2:30 PM
During the Haiti Unveiled: Narratives of Culture, History and Womanhood discussion panel, Myriam J.A. Chancy explained her choice of a character that she loves and thinks represents the Haitian woman best is the "market woman," like the one that can be found in her book, What Storm What Thunder. This is because the character is based off of her own grandmother who was a market woman and successfully supported the family by selling fruit goods. This really resonated with me and my own experiences with my grandmother being a shop owner and a "market woman" in a completely different part of the Caribbean.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 2:20 PM
Got to enjoy some of the wonderful live music going on at the Off the Shelf music stage while buying great books off of the nearby tents! Brass band and graphic novels prove to be a wonderful combination.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 2:14 PM
I went from iconic mammals to mysteries of the oceans. The Book Fair’s nature panels often bring together clever sets of authors.
Karen Pinchin's Kings of Their Own Ocean: Tuna, Obsession, and the Future of Our Seas is the story of tuna and the fishermen drawn to them. She read a passage about fishing for tuna by hand off Nova Scotia in 1935. The book also uses the migrations of tagged bluefin, including a world traveler named Amelia (for Earhart), as a lens into the state of the oceans today.
Susan Casey's The Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Oceans explores the deep ocean (600 feet and deeper), which contains over nine-tenths of the earth's biomass, the preponderance of its volcanic activity, and countless undiscovered species living in environments long assumed unlivable. A trailer video gave us a tiny glimpse of the deep. With so much unexplored, why does the ocean get a small fraction of the funding spent on outer space?
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 2:13 PM
Leaving the Fair, I’m asked to sign a petition by a kind woman who wanted to remain anonymous. The petition, she explained, is meant to get a measure on the 2024 ballot. The measure is summarized, “No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient's health, as determined by the patient's healthcare provider.”
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 2:12 PM
As an avid funky earring connoisseur, the moment I spotted the beautiful, handmade earrings at Whimsical Craft Co., I just knew I had to check them out. Maria, the owner of the shop, creates them using a laser engraver, and they have a 2 for $18 deal going on right now! I definitely couldn’t resist snatching up two pairs.
Along with earrings, they also sell bookmarks and handmade wooden crafts, such as Lazy Susans and cutting boards. She also has an Etsy shop named WhimsicalCraftCo1!
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 1:57 PM
At the Books by Britton table at the Street Fair, I spoke with the creator of these beautiful, handmade miniature bookshelves, Britton. She told me about how she started creating these miniatures during the pandemic in 2020 in a fit of boredom. Slowly, her hobby and talent grew, and she’s gone from giving away these tiny bookshelves to selling them here at the Street Fair and online. She has an Etsy shop and website aptly named BooksByBritton. I know I’ll probably walk away buying one of these adorable bookshelves!
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 1:54 PM
Upon entering the Street Fair, I was greeted with the sounds of lively music coming from Bop Shop Brass at Off the Shelf, a mini music festival. They were finishing off a jazz performance of "I Want You Back" by The Jackson 5, and transitioned into a song I didn’t recognize, but was fun and upbeat nonetheless!
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 1:47 PM
I jog past the line already forming for Meg Cabot who is not due to start her panel for another hour. Lovely as I think her writing is, today I am not here for her. I am here for a homicidal wristwatch and some spider goats! Garth Stein, Matthew Southworth, and Stona Fitch deliver in spades with a panel complete with readings, improv comedy, and a conspiracy theory PowerPoint presentation. A first for me at the fair!
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 1:35 PM
Snagged some well-loved books at the $1 books tent next to the Children's Alley! They have a multigenre selection of classics and forgotten gems. Highly recommend!
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 1:22 PM
A few Book Fairs ago, I heard Susan Casey discuss The Wave, chronicling the exploits and obsessions of extreme giant-wave surfers. Today she described The Underworld as “The Wave turned upside down,” about the scientists and explorers fascinated and obsessed by the deep ocean.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 1:01 PM
I was greeted at the Majesty of Birds panel by the gorgeous photos in Anders and Beverly Gyllenhaal's presentation on A Wing and a Prayer: The Race to Save Our Vanishing Birds. The photos, taken by Anders, depict endangered birds they saw from Florida to the Sierra Nevadas on a quest to understand the loss of three billion birds in North America over the last fifty years. "Every hoot, whistle and call is tracked and analyzed" in the interest of learning what it will take to save these birds, says Beverly Gyllenhaal. But theirs is "not a book about doom and gloom. There are lots of reasons for hope." The pair went on to describe efforts, by everyone from naturalists to hunters to the US military, to save species of birds across America.
Carl Safina helped to found a wildlife rehab center in his youth, so wasn't surprised when a rehabilitator called him to identify a mysterious owl needing help. He took the bird in, and that owl, Alfie, remained near his home for years after her pin feathers had regrown, establishing his backyard as the core of her territory. Alfie and Me: What Owls Know, What Humans Believe tells that story, while answering the question "Why do, and why don't, we care about birds?"
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 12:43 PM
Parents and kids alike rest their feet in the Read & Chill Lounge located in the Children’s Alley. In the shade of a big tent, assorted beanbags offer respite or, for some parents, a chance to crack open a new purchase.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 12:26 PM
The tents’ tops’ bright colors match the international flags hanging from the second-floor balcony of Building 1, bold blue and red, bright yellow and orange, deep green, crisp white, strong black.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 12:21 PM
I walk into a building for the first author session I'll be attending for the day: Celebrating the National Book Nominees for Fiction. The room fills quickly as all the authors step in. One of the larger panels at the fair, the table is crowded with nine authors.
The Dean of Student for MDC's West Campus briefly introduces the panel. He thanks the panel and those present, and the moderator begins. Since there are several authors that have to read, introductions are kept short, and the authors are invited to begin reading their excerpts one at a time. After each author reads, the moderator asks one question.
After the first author, Aaliyah Bilal, reads from her book Temple Folk, the moderate asks to what extent her considerations of women shape her writing. Bilal responds:
"Considerations [of women] is not primarily what is passing through my mind. I see a shape and I try to fill that shape with my writing."
The authors continue reading one by one and answering questions posed. Latoya Watkins, author of Holler Child, discusses silence as an overall theme in her book and how that led her to choose "Holler Child" as the titular story. Jayne Anne Philips, author of Night Watch, shares how she considers writing and reading a form of time travel. Tania James, author of Loot, is asked if she sees her journey as an artist reflected in the journey of her character. In discussing her journey, she says:
"I can be obsessed with something, but until I figure out why it matters to me personally, it's just not going to sustain for the length of a novel."
The readings continue with Eliot Duncan, author of Ponyboy, reading out a what I think is a beautifully lyrical excerpt of prose. It was the closest to poetry of the bunch! Then, Paul Harding, author of This Other Eden, discusses the importance of some of the quiet moments in the lives of his characters which lead the reader to get to know them before tense moments unfold. Hanna Pylvainen, author of The End of Drum-Time, is sharing the importance of significant detail when she says:
"The fact itself never matters. The filter is what matters... Something which is normal to me or abnormal to me is not going to be what is abnormal or normal to a character."
The panel continues with Justin Torres, author of Blackouts. He talks about the influence of queer art and queer history in his writing. Finally, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of Chain-Gang All Stars, discusses which point of view was his favorite to write.
With that, the panel turns to audience questions and I scuddle out to try make the next panel on my list!
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 12:19 PM
Where’s my AREPA? The “food court” is now a “food experience” curated by Smorgasburg Miami. There’s a record number of offerings in booths and food trucks, all doing brisk business as the Fairgoer crowd swells and lunchtime approaches. But I think I draw the line at warm Maine lobster rolls served up in Miami (at Maine height-of-season prices).
The tragic victims of this new regime are the dozen or so arepa carts and lemonade stands that had been scattered around the Fair in prior years. Even my cholesterol coach didn’t begrudge me my annual Book Fair arepa. Stomach is rumbling.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 12:15 PM
Looked in on a poetry panel to hear Michael Hettich read from The Halo of Bees: New & Selected Poems 1990-2022. I always enjoy his work. His poems have both narrative and deep sense of place, and they convey a sense of connection, often companionship. Between people (especially lovers), with the landscape, with creatures and objects, with light or darkness, with the air we breathe and the space we occupy.
“The Dark House” begins “Trust the simple things, she said then, to lead us / through this dark house, hands outstretched to feel / what we can’t see."
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 12:01 PM
Book Fair beer report. Five—count ‘em, five—locations on the Fair grounds are serving beer, spiked lemonade, hard liquor(!), and soft drinks, but inexplicably not wine. I guess bibliophiles don’t do sherry and port anymore. These “Smorgasbars” are part of the “Smorgasburg” food concession operation. At least they have Modelo, at $8 plus automatic $2 tip, credit cards only.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:59 AM
Sunlight streams into the courtyard of Building 1, where crowds have gathered to hear both Christopher Paolini and James McBride. The second floor buzzes with excitement. People chat happily as they wait in line.
All ages are here, from babies to seniors. I see tote bags filled with newly purchased books, Book Fair programs held up for inspection, popcorn and soft drinks from nearby vendors, and cosplay worth noting: crowns and staves and plastic swords, elf ears and billowing tunics. Paolini himself, as he took fans’ personal copies to read from, was kind enough to compliment the outfits: “Love the dragon wings,” and “Nice cape,” for example.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:54 AM
Administrative burden. Implementation gap. And my personal favorite, “policy vomit.” When terms such as these get tossed around, you can be fairly sure you’re attending an authors’ panel about exasperating bureaucratic inefficiency. Jennifer Pahlka used them while discussing her book Recoding America: Why Government is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better.
An administrative burden refers to, as you may have guessed, the unnecessary hardships experienced by citizens when trying to apply for government benefits that they are entitled to, such as unemployment compensation, or food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
An implementation gap refers to the disconnect between policymakers and those who implement policies, said Pahlka, who served as US deputy chief technology officer during the Obama administration. As a consequence, policy vomit can stem not from bureaucrats being cruel, but from them being thorough as they follow Congress’s guidelines, Pahlka said. The result can be an overwhelming and humiliating experience for applicants, such as those, for example, faced with a SNAP application with 200-plus questions.
Despite discussing several dreary examples of government failing its citizens, Pahlka reminded us that sometimes government and technology can work together well. As an example, she cited the online link that allows households to quickly and easily order COVID tests (covid.gov/tests).
In a deeper sense, Pahlka reminded us that the point of her book is to serve as a wake-up call to a troubling reality: the seeds of democracy in our society aren’t growing. So the next time politicians ask for our votes, Pahlka reminded us to consider not only if our values align with them. She said we should also reflect upon if they are acting as conscientious gardeners, effectively tending the country’s soil.
—Roberto J. Manzano
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:52 AM
The pause after one of Michael Hettich’s poems drew a Fairgoer to think out loud: “Why can’t I write like that?” Speaking for many in the crowded room.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:48 AM
My first panel of the Fair discussed two influential animals hunted nearly to extinction and now making limited localized comebacks.
Leila Philip (Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America) described beavers as “bringers of water to others.” Hundreds of millions of beavers shaped the waterway systems of North America—and continue to do so where permitted. Their dams not only create ponds but also drive water down into the aquifer, filtered in the process. They are natural conservators.
They also jumpstarted transatlantic trade to meet the European demand for beaver pelts for hats (after the Europeans had decimated their own population of beavers).
Deighton Duncan’s Blood Memory: The Tragic Decline and Improbable Resurrection of the American Buffalo is companion to the Ken Burns’ The American Buffalo documentary. Duncan said the American Bison opens "a portal into the story of the nation—and into two opposing views of how humans interact with the natural world.”
For 10,000 years, Native Americans evolved alongside the buffalo in a form of kinship. No part of a hunted buffalo went to waste, and the animals were honored for giving themselves to the people. The opposing view, of course, is that nature—and native populations—are to be subjugated. The buffalo were nearly wiped out in the late 19th century in service of the leather and fur trade.
Duncan explained that the book doesn’t try to bring the buffalo story all the way into the present. He said that historians need a generation’s distance to be confident in their conclusions.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:30 AM
Although I've attended the Miami Book Fair quite a few times now, this is the first year I attended alone, and had the chance to make some observations I would have otherwise missed, which started with the free parking in Building 7 in Miami Dade College's Parking Garage. I parked on the 6th floor and on the elevator ride down to the Book Fair, each time the elevator stopped, a new face or two joined. On the 5th floor a father and son stepped in, the son had a black cap on and was holding a thick fantasy book in his hand. The next stop welcomed in three older women with totes, that seemed by size, ready to stock up on at least four to five books each. A mother, whose stroller took up half the elevator with her two daughters in tow, had the perfect way to get in and out of all the colorful corners of the Book Fair's Children's Alley. There was also a mother and her excited, young son and a man whose shirt indicated he was probably working at the Fair. Leaving the elevator on the first floor set the tone for the rest of the Book Fair. It was a special way for me to enter remembering that the Miami Book Fair is truly an event meant for everyone to celebrate in their own way and enjoy.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:14 AM
Panelists at the "So You Want to Start a Publication" panel described the perils of balancing print and virtual elements of both publication and promotion. Ginevra Davis, co-editor of The Miami Native, explains why they opted for a print, rather than fully online, publication: Print magazines "have more of a durability for writers and readers," freed from an obsession with algorithms and engagement. Co-editor Grazie Christie adds that social media contributes to the fatigue of a post-publication lifestyle, which "extends the creative process beyond how long it was supposed to go."
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:11 AM
Wednesday’s featured event was an “evening with” crime fiction master Water Mosley discussing his new novel, the dystopian fantasy Touched. Wednesday evening was also when a wind-and-rain event (that didn’t even qualify as a tropical storm) dumped 10 inches of rain on downtown Miami.
Spoke with one of the intrepid folks who braved the weather. He reports that, while attendance was inevitably low, it turned out to be a special, and especially intimate, gathering of an author with his hard-core fans.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:01 AM
Quotes from Christopher Paolini’s event for his new novel, Murtagh: “If you find yourself building Viking-style mead halls in your backyard, you are officially bored,” and “When I wrote this sentence, I felt like I leveled up as an author: ‘Die puny human!’”
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 11:00 AM
At "Christopher Paolini on Murtagh: The World of Eragon," Paolini said that it was his 40th birthday yesterday!
"I did the math, and when I was 20, I was touring for Eragon," he said. "To be touring 20 years later for Eragon is pretty special."
Paolini confessed, "When I was a kid learning to read, I absolutely hated [reading]."
However, his mother, who homeschooled him his entire education, persisted. The breakthrough occurred when Paolini checked out a children's mystery book from the library for the first time as a young child.
"For whatever reason, when I started reading it, it's as if a switch flipped," he said. "Instead of seeing black marks on a page, I could also see the things in my head. Instead of seeing the word 'sun,' I could almost see the sun in my head. I could almost hear the dialogue."
Paolini graduated from high school when he was 15 years old, but was at a loss for how to use his free time.
"Whatever you choose to do in the time when you don't have to do anything, just might be the thing you should do for your career," he said. "In my case, I really liked reading books about dragons. And since riding dragons and fighting monsters wasn't a career opportunity in the newspaper, I decided to try writing the kind of story I like reading."
His new book, Murtagh: The World of Eragon, "felt like returning home after a long absence," Paolini said.
After reading a few excerpts from various books in the Eragon series, Paolini took audience questions.
One person asked, "What color dragon would you have?" and Paolini said "blue," but added a disclaimer: "I'm partially colorblind. Sapphira's vision in the books is how I see. The blue I see and that I find attractive, I've been told by family, is actually purple!"
Speaking about his enjoyment of reading and writing, Paolini stated, "I do believe that reading and writing is the closest thing to magic in the world today."
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 10:58 AM
I always like to start my Book Fair weekend with a panel on the literary world itself, so was excited to see the "So You Want to Start a Publication" panel was first up in room 8303. Five editors from four very different publications shared their experiences starting literary magazines and editing anthologies.
Dustin Brookshire's anthology, Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology, started as an edition of Limp Wrist magazine. He decided to switch tracks and craft an anthology once "we realized we had a third of the work done already," and produced the book with a turnaround time of just a year. The book includes 57 writers, two of whom were prose authors never having published a poem before.
UndrBelly is a digital publication, which founding editor Suanay Hernandez desribes as "an alternative magazine looking for the underbelly of Miami food culture." "The heart of food is hidden behind reviews and influencer culture," Hernandez says, so the magazine's "focus is on getting to know the people behind the food" at the little restaurants that are "the backbone of feeding our city."
Jasmine Respess is the editor of Islandia Journal, which focuses on folklore of Miami and the Caribbean across all forms, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, photography and more. She described their editing process as well as the challenges of learning "the language of grant-writing," to be able to fund a small publication that still pays its authors and artists for their work.
Founding The Miami Native, co-editors Ginevra Davis and Grazie Christie were inspired by the way little magazines create culture. "Unless there was a hurricane or an election," Christie says, "there wasn't an appetite outside the city for long-form content about Miami." Christie, a Miami native, and Davis, a transplant, aim to build bridges between the those inside and outside Miami through the power of an independent magazine.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 10:39 AM
After some searching and a bit of a panic, I realize that while Comic Alley isn't up the way it used to be, all the usual vendors are still around! Most are scattered throughout the fair, but there is a mainstay, MVP Comics, by the performance area.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 10:31 AM
With the aid of my press badge, I slipped into the auditorium a little bit late to listen to "Dani Shapiro's Family Secrets: Live with Guest Maggie Smith." The room was packed!
When Smith compared writing to motherhood, it really stood out to me: "My writing and my children are the greatest blessings in my life."
"My children and my writing are both miraculous to me," she said. "Being a mother has changed who I am as a person. Without them, I couldn't have written."
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 10:07 AM
It's a cloudy day and the smell of popcorn greets me as I get out of my car. Traffic was messy and parking was a nightmare, but I still feel like I'm coming back home after being away. This is my first time back in-person at the Miami Book Fair in three years. I almost skip to the gate. A few minutes and quick bag check later, I am weaving through people, making my way around the rainbow-colored tents, and mapping out my route for the day.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 10:05 AM
The book-lined streets are filled with ogling people. Excited readers galore, but also kids too young to read, and dogs, including an adorable Rottweiler that gave me a kiss! I smell popcorn. There is popcorn in the air. Who doesn’t love that festive, fair energy?
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 9:40 AM
My Book Fair weekend begins with ritual greetings at Glover’s Bookery and Akashic Books, catching up, thanking them for being on hand again, finding out what new treasures they offer, and hearing how they managed to set up in the aftermath of the Wednesday-Thursday wind-and-rain event. In Glover’s case, their booth/tent was part of a row that was blown down but replaced with remarkable alacrity.
Weekend weather is ideal—partly cloudy, dry, not too hot.
Lamkin shared the story behind one of her books, A Smackeral of Something: Recipes from the 100 Acre Wood. Lamkin authored the book and incorporated family recipes to bring to life the world of Winnie the Pooh. The publishing house itself is a family team effort, as her husband is a book illustrator!
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 9:12 AM
At the "Just Juniper Adventures" table, author Irene Hernandez and her husband Pablo shared their interesting story with me. It's Irene's second year at the Book Fair selling her chapter book series for 2nd-4th graders.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, this former Miami Dade County public school teacher wrote the series, which is named after their best friend's dog, Juniper.
"My second graders were my first critics," she said, smiling.
Hernandez's sister, Silvia Maria de la Fe, illustrated the books. Hernandez said that de la Fe modeled the main character after Hernandez as a little girl.
Although she is retired from teaching, Hernandez still visits to read her books aloud. Talk about a full circle!
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, 9:00 AM
I'm here early before the Book Fair begins, while vendors are setting up their tents. The skies are cloudy and there's a nice, cold breeze. It actually feels like Fall in Miami! Can't forget sunscreen, though—gray skies are deceptive!
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 4:58 PM
Furry friends at Smorgasburg Miami! I sat at the picnic tables near the food trucks for a while, and had the chance to meet Heidi, a shy but sweet German Shepherd mix, and Zeus, an outgoing Labrador. There’s no shortage of cute pets here, along with delicious food!
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 4:19 PM
Books By Britton is selling cute miniature bookcases featuring fandoms or themes. They have Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, banned books, Agatha Christie, and many others. They also do custom orders.
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 4:04 PM
The Street Fair is slowly winding down, but it’s still humming with the noise of students, kids, book lovers, native Miamians, and many, many more. After browsing through various exhibitors, I happened upon the tent for the University Press of Florida. I initially resisted the urge to buy the anthology Home in Florida, but the editor-in-chief, Stephanye Hunter, convinced me to do so with just a few short words. I can’t wait to read it!
Their books are on sale for up to 40% off, so get there while you can!
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 12:45 PM
The Miami Book Fair may have just celebrated 40 years this weekend, but the hashtag #ReadCaribbean has only entered the book chat within the last five to six years. Many of the panelists for Echos of the Caribbean: Exploring Identity, Culture and Resistance in Contemporary Literature, which included authors Myriam J.A. Chancy, Kevin Jared Hosein, Karen Lord, and Safiya Sinclair, agreed that there's been a booming interest in the world of Caribbean literature recently. According to Haitian-Canadian author Myriam Chancy, a lot of this is credit to writers from the region who are "deeply invested in the landscape of the Caribbean" and have cracked open unique ways to "remix the colonial past with the present" as a rebellion against the many forces that have tried to overpower Caribbean stories being shared freely and widely for years.
The panelists represented Barbados, Haiti, Jamaica, and Trinidad through their books: Spirit of Haiti (Chancy), Hungry Ghosts (Hosein), How to Say Babylon: A Memoir (Sinclair), and The Blue, Beautiful World (Lord). I was completely enthralled by the conversation moderated by Chancy in which something as simple as crayfish, the ocean, the unique homeland sounds that appear in each of their stories, and the access of their books in the islands, all could be connected to each author in some way. The last few minutes of the panel left the audience feeling a sense of pride knowing that #ReadCaribbean would continue to grow and shine for many more Miami Book Fairs to come.
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 12:39 PM
The proprietor of Glover's Bookery shared a tidbit—that some of the boxes that make up their classic edifice are older than the Book Fair itself! The wooden boxes form a cool, dimly-lit shelter from the hot Miami sun, where one can browse antiquarian books and fascinating finds. Their setup is right at the main intersection of the Street Fair.
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 12:15 PM
For the last several years, Gables Delight, which sells homemade jams and jellies, has been coming to the Fair. And every time, I stock up.
Growing up in a Cuban household, I saw my father cutting rectangles of guava paste and queso blanco and stacking them on top of each other for a late night snack. Guava and cheese pastelitos are the best pastries, in my opinion. And while one can find guava ice cream, baked goods made with guava, and other guava-flavored foodstuffs at local stores in South Florida, I have yet to find a guava jam that actually spreads and doesn’t require me to take a knife to break it down.
But at Gables Delight, the guava jam is a real jam and not a paste stuffed into a jar.
I rave about Gables Delight’s guava jam to everyone who is willing to listen. Having baked guava cheesecakes several times this year using this brand of jam to make the cheesecake’s beautiful pink guava swirls, I tell everyone who tried my dessert that they need to buy this specific brand if they want to recreate my amazing cheesecake. I even dragged a colleague today to the Gables Delight booth so he, too, can enjoy this marvelous jam.
And no, I am not being sponsored.
If you missed the Fair this year or you didn’t swing by Gables Delight, some of their flavors—including the guava!—are now available at Whole Foods across the state.
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 11:58 AM
I always enjoy seeing the behind-the-scenes work that goes into huge events like the book fair, so I slipped into the Author Lounge, where authors and media workers get to relax from the bustle of the fair.
There, I met Celeste Brens-Barruos. Her son, Christian Barruos-Brens, is a culinary student at Miami Dade College and is one of the chefs behind the Miami Book Fair. He created VIP baskets and made a spread for the Author Lounge with croquettes, pastelitos, orange juice, and his famous Cafecito Brownies.
His story is inspiring: when Barruos-Brens was 16, his mom became sick with cancer. He started baking, selling brownies at school to earn extra income for his family. When his father passed away about a year later, he invented Cafecito Brownies in his honor. Barruos-Brens has been featured on Univision, a reality TV show, and much more, and owns two businesses.
"I taught him the Latin cuisine first," his mother said, "and now he's teaching me."
An amazing story of someone working behind the scenes to make the Miami Book Fair a success!
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 11:44 AM
I'm glad I paused at the Off the Shelf stage to see the LoBac Quartet, a jazz/rock group. Their soulful tunes filled the air and a small crowd quickly gathered to enjoy. They were brought to the Fair by Young Musicians Unite, which collaborates with South Florida schools to provide free music education. You can find the LoBac Quartet on Instagram here.
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 11:41 AM
At the Food Court, Smorgasburg Miami, I tasted some cold, fresh coconut ice cream over at Coco House. I had fun chatting with Maria Fernanda, who works alongside relatives at this family-owned business.
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 11:34 AM
Stilt-walking-butterfly spotting at the entrance to Children's Alley! Definitely the tallest butterfly I've ever seen!
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 10:40 AM
As expected, the most hopping spot on Friday is Children's Alley, where the crowds have gathered at the Participate Stage. The raucous time can be heard even from more peaceful nooks like the Read & Chill Lounge just a couple tents away. So be prepared if you're seeking a spot with a lower decibel level!
The only bigger crowds at this hour are in the Smorgasburg Food Court, where many are queuing for an early lunch. Tacos and milkshakes seem to be popular options as the day is quickly heating up.
Ruth Dickey, National Book Foundation executive director, introduces host Ebony LaDelle (far left) at the National Book Awards Teen Press Conference. Authors (left to right): Alyson Derrick, Erin Bow, Michael G. Long, Dr. Yohuru Williams, Dan Nott, Huda Fahmy, Betty C. Tang, and Kenneth M. Cadow. Photo by Emily Chaffins
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 10:00 AM
At the 10 a.m. National Book Awards Teen Press Conference, the winner, finalists, and longlisted authors for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature read excerpts from their books and took questions from teenage students acting as reporters. Author Ebony LaDelle was the MC for the event.
Some students had writing-related questions, such as a question aimed at longlisted author Dan Nott: "Did anyone call you crazy or didn't believe in you since your book took six years to write, and how did you get past that?", or a question for finalist Huda Fahmy, "Why did you choose to write your story as a comic book?"
One student had a question regarding how the authors' experience informs their writing, directed at Erin Bow: "How do you think your training in physics comes out in your writing?"
Authors had advice for aspiring writers. Dan Nott's comment stood out to me: "Start writing early in the morning before your inner critic gets up."
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 9:58 AM
Final street fair setup is ongoing. Rumor has it that, due to the intense rains we've had this week, the iconic Book Fair tents only went up last night, so all exhibitor setup had to happen this morning. Despite this, the area is already bustling with school groups and those like me trying to get an initial look at the offerings.
Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, 9:54 AM
One of the first things I see arriving at the Miami Book Fair is the official poster, converted into a ginormous photo backdrop. In the MBF booklet they're handing out, I read about the art, designed by New World School of the Arts graphic design student Jose Chocce. In the interview included within the booklet, Chocce stated he included a bird holding a worm in its beak "to imply the importance of early reading habits." Some of my earliest book-related memories are from the Miami Book Fair. It's my first time back at MBF since middle school! This is going to be epic.
Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023
Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, 7:33 PM
The work everyone has put in to make the Street Fair happen this year deserve a bonus or a pay rise or some form of recognition because NE 2nd Ave. is again lined with colorful tents.
I believe some of the undamaged tents from elsewhere in the Street Fair were moved to 2nd Ave., it being the “main street,” if you will, and blue and white tents were erected to replace the tents that were relocated.
Although much has been done already, the work isn’t over yet. MDC employees are still putting up signage and moving things around campus just as vendors are arriving with their wares and setting up to open tomorrow.
Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, 12:56 PM
The fallen tents from last night are gone. In fact, almost everything that lined NE 2nd Ave. only yesterday—poles, tables, signage—is gone. All that’s left are the colorful canopy tops stacked on top of each other.
What I failed to notice the day before as I used my small umbrella as a shield against the wind and rain, allowing me to only see my feet and maybe a yard in front of me, was that the tents that hadn’t fallen had also sustained damages.
Crossing 2nd Ave. today in daylight sans rain, I see many of the canopies were ripped and are beyond repair—at least I can’t see how they can be repaired with less than 24 hours before the Street Fair opens tomorrow morning.
And for those unaware or who have forgotten, the Friday of the Street Fair is the day many local schools bring their students.
All over campus, MDC workers are busy hammering and moving equipment and furniture. Many of the faces are the same ones I saw last night walking around in ponchos trying to salvage tents and tables.
I hope they’re getting paid overtime.
Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023
Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, 7:12 PM
Although we’re nearing the end of the Atlantic hurricane season, which officially ends on November 30th, one would think we were still in the peak of the season walking around Wolfson Campus tonight.
As usual, the colorful tents that are a staple of the Book Fair’s Street Fair went up a few days ago. So by this morning, the tents were in position for vendors to set up on Thursday/Friday, but South Florida weather had other plans.
Throughout Miami and surrounding regions, it has been raining nonstop today, but in Downtown Miami where the Book Fair is being held, the skyscrapers that are popping up all over the city are causing dangerous wind tunnels. One such area is in NE 2nd Ave. (specifically between Wolfson’s Buildings 2 and 6, 9, and 4), or what I consider to be the main thoroughfare of the Street Fair.
Tents have fallen over and Wolfson Campus facilities and custodial workers, plus staffers from other departments, are trying to secure the tents still standing and assess the damage. The wind is so strong that students and employees trying to leave campus are waiting for the wind to die down to brave the rain.