Book Fair exposes Hispanic culture, international literati

Taking over the Wolfson Campus of Miami-Dade Community College with a swarm of books and literary figures from around the globe, the Miami Book Fair International was indeed a successful week-long congregation for book lovers, writers, readers or just curious wanderers.

The fair took place from Nov. 11-18, featuring a distinctive array of guest speakers, an interesting schedule of events, over a million books for sale, and even a children’s area promoting reading and the discovery of literature for kids.

Besides Chicago’s annual and prominent literary fair, Miami’s event is a second notable gathering of publishers and authors, and has been described by Tom Wolfe as “the literary Mecca of the Western World.” Publishing houses from, among others, Israel, Spain, France and Central and South America showcased their wares at the event.

Today, the fair has become one of Miami-Dade County’s largest and most vibrant cultural events, helping to unite international book lovers and establishing a sense of community spirit in the city. Miami Book Fair International has greatly evolved from its more modest beginning to a full-scale, week-long occasion with a remarkable lineup of programs, readings and special activities.

The fair had its start in November 1984, entitled “Books by the Bay”, and only lasted two days, but still was an impressive celebration. Authors from around the world flew in to debut their works and nearly 100 exhibitor booths lined a one-block distance between Northeast First Street and Second Avenue in downtown Miami.

By the 1990’s, the event included a reading series, a full program in Spanish, commemorating Spanish readers and authors, an award-winning program for younger readers, a student outreach program, a student literary magazine and a rare books display. The fair also featured events highlighting local writers, writing workshops for aspiring authors, and a family literacy program.

The newest addition to the schedule of events was the Lifestyles program, which sort of took a more general, unifying approach to the experience of “life.”

Fairgoers were able to encounter intriguing booths of authors and experts who would focus on a vast range of topics such as alternative medicine, whole-life wellness, mind/body connections, spirituality, family issues, relationships, nature, animals, cooking, gardening and interior design.

Moreover, the experience of the fair was all the more enhanced by an artistic atmosphere and multi-cultural performances that sparked up the weekend activities. The sweet sounds of jazz would resonate at one end of the fair, while salsa and merengue would take over as you would approach the Spanish sections.

Also, at a certain point on the last day of the event, a group named Inca Spirit performed in the middle of the Street Fair, as the sounds of world music, Brazilian bossa nova and hypnotic flute echoes emanated from their instruments. Their album, most likely unavailable in stores, was being sold for $15 and it was well worth it.

The Street Fair was an attraction by itself and delivered a powerful assortment of books from around the world, souvenirs and other cultural icons. Walking along the rows of publishers displaying a multitude of books for sale, it was even all the more interesting to watch the international crowd of buyers, strolling through, looking for potentially appealing books. I was able to catch instances of conversation in French, Spanish, Italian and even Arabic.

Guest authors were around throughout the week to autograph their books, read from their works and speak about pertinent issues, leaving ample time after for questions and discussions.

The fair also invited a medley of award-winning authors from around the globe and from the United States such as notable poets, novelists, editors and Pulitzer Prize journalists. Among others, Paul Auster, Carol Higgins Clark, Jerry Stahl, Douglas Coupland and Stephen King were distinguished fiction writers that were present.

Journalists Harold Blum, Florida-based Carl Hiassen, Carlos Franqui and Edna Buchanan all gave shrewd and intuitive discussions during their speeches.

On a last note, this article is not necessarily a review of the Book Fair. The latter was, all in all, a spectacular event.

Rather, this was written to first push the reader to consider attending such a culturally-balanced fair the following year and, also, to give him/her a little bit of insight on an event that promotes something which is a fundamental compound of our education-that is, literacy. The jumble of international culture, art and literature is a unique experience even for someone who has never picked up a book outside the classroom (though that last thought would indeed be a shame).