Visual Art

Miami Book Fair Celebrates 40 Years as a Beacon For Authors, Readers

Written By Rebekah Lanae Lengel
November 9, 2023 at 2:21 PM

The popular street fair is one of the highlights of the Miami Book Fair with vendors selling books galore. The Miami Book Fair opens Sunday, Nov. 12 and runs through Sunday, Nov. 19 with the street fair Friday, Nov. 17 through Sunday, Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of Miami Book Fair)

A September study released by the PEN America Foundation, a Washington, D.C., based organization that stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States, tracked over 3,000 book bans nationally in public schools and libraries. It found that 40 percent of the bans were happening in the state of Florida.

As special interest groups and legislatures statewide work to restrict book access under the guise of parental choice, books themselves have become, not for the first time, battleground of the current cultural wars, objects of division.

Against this backdrop,  one of Miami’s most enduring cultural institutions instead sees books as a way to bring the community together. For 40 years, Miami Book Fair has served as a celebration of all things literary, using books not as a way to divide but as a way for people to unite and find common ground across all spectrums.  What began in 1984 as a two-day festival, has grown into an eight-day triumph of the written word.

A fairgoer checks out books for sale at the Miami Book Fair, street fair, at Wolfson Campus on Nov. 19, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the Miami Book Fair)

Lisette Mendez, director of programs for Miami Book Fair, says she began attending the festival in its early days as a teenager, finding a welcoming home within its vibrant community, one that allowed her a feeling of belonging.

“We just want to create a space where everyone feels like there’s something that appeals to them, there’s something that they can connect to,”  says Mendez, who adds that she believes the Book Fair is a way to bring people together.   “Whether it’s because you come to the street fair or you’re in the music area, listening to the live music or eating food or just walking around and buying some stuff, taking your kids to Children’s Alley, belonging is such an important part of it.”

Mitchell Kaplan, co-founder and current chair of the board for the Miami Book Fair,  agrees. “We have such a diverse community with so many interests that seem to be at odds with one another. However, when we come to the book fair and we look and we see people communicating with one another, empathizing with one another, you know, the power of books and the power of convening people who love books. Books, their writers, their readers, publishers. It’s a great antidote to what’s going on right now.”

Kicking off on Sunday, Nov. 12 with a free Block Party featuring Grammy Award-winning DJ/producer Louie Vega, more than  500 authors will be present at this year’s fair discussing books ranging from heartfelt biographies, nonfiction books exploring the current cultural zeitgeist to fiction and poetry of every variety.

Author headliners include actors Jada Pinkett Smith, Kerry Washington, Henry Winkler, singer Joan Baez, and Washington, D.C., whistlerblower Cassidy Hutchinson to name a few.

Jada Pinkett Smith presents her memoir “Worthy at the Miami Book Fair at 5:39 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12. The ticket event for $42 includes the book. (Photo courtesy of Miami Book Fair)

The Off the Shelf program has spoken-word, improv, and live musical performances by Afrobeta, Sol and the Tribu along with others. This year, the family-friendly Children’s Alley offers percussion workshops, a hands-on robotic academy and a stage adaptation of Neil Goldberg’s picture book “POMP, SNOW & CIRQUEumstance.”

The nightly Lost Chapter Lounge allows book lovers to gather in fellowship over cocktails and bites along with deejay sets, and the Street Fair gives fairgoers the chance to browse exhibitor areas and purchase books.

Eschewing a particular theme, Miami Book Fair is intentionally expansive in its representation of authors and topics, offering attendees options to connect with stories ranging from dystopian fantasy like “Touched” by Walter Mosely, or horror with “The Wishing Pool and Other Stories” by Tananarive Due. Author David Brooks will speak to his Book Fair audience giving tips from “How to Know a Person,” on how to communicate more deeply with one another.   Essayist Ross Gay will read from and discuss his latest work “The Book of (More) Delights,” and attendees can take a deep dive into the animals of, and stories about the Sunshine State with authors Kirsten Hines and Jacki Levine.

Children’s Alley during the 2022 Miami Book Fair at Wolfson Campus. (Photo courtesy of the Miami Book Fair)

Says Mendez, “It’s through those written works that we really chronicle our times. And I think books, more than any other art form  . . . really help us understand where we are in the world at any point. You know, whether it’s the stories that put the present times into context historically or the historical books that place us in a different time and in different situations that can teach or illuminate or just entertain.”

The fair also offers programming in Spanish and Creole, and will live stream some events and author talks, eliminating as many barriers as possible for the community to participate in the fair.

Beyond the eight days of the festival, Miami Book Fair has also grown to offer year-round programming for bibliophiles and aspiring authors, something Kaplan is thrilled to have seen of the fair’s evolution.

Mitchell Kaplan, co-founder and board chair of Miami Dade College’s Miami Book Fair. (Photo courtesy of Books & Books)

When asked what he envisions for the next 40 years of the festival, Kaplan shares, “I don’t think books are going by the wayside. And I think that as long as people have stories to tell, they will tell them. The Book Fair each year is different based on the stories that people have to tell through their books. So  . . . it’ll be really different in 2063 because who knows what those stories will be like. I still think that people need empathy. And the empathy that everyone gets through books, there’ll still be a hunger for that. And I don’t think that’s going anywhere.”

WHAT: Miami Dade College’s Miami Book Fair

WHERE: Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami

WHEN:   Saturday, Nov. 12 through Sunday, Nov. 19. Various times for author events; street fair 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 17, Saturday, Nov. 18 and Sunday, Nov. 19.

COST:   Various events are free with RSVP, Street Fair admission is free on Friday, then Saturday and Sunday, $8 in advance, $10 at the gate. Author events range in price, some admission prices include copies of books.

INFORMATION:  miamibookfair.com

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com. 

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