Alumni authors shine in weeklong book festival

A short Metrorail ride into Downtown Miami transports visitors to a paradise for book lovers, also known as the 2014 Miami Book Fair International. The weeklong festival will feature hundreds of authors and numerous tents filled with booksellers, crafts, open mic events and entertainment from around the globe.

Three authors from the University of Miami will host workshops and panels that explore cultural differences and the immigrant experience. The Miami Book Fair International was selected as The Miami Hurricane’s Best of UMiami 2014 winner for “Best Free Event.”

Natalia Sylvester received a B.A. in creative writing from UM in 2006. She will be participating in a panel on Nov. 23 to talk about her book “Chasing the Sun” and the writing process. She is looking forward to the fair to meet and learn from other writers.

“Writers don’t really get that chance to meet readers and to talk to others about their work,” Sylvester said. “To me, an event like the book fair is an amazing opportunity to do that and remind us why we do what we do. We all have something to say, and to get a chance to say it in front of people who are just as enthusiastic about writing and books as you are is incredibly motivating.

While at UM, Sylvester worked on short stories for her thesis that would eventually develop into her first novel “Chasing the Sun.” The story is about a man whose wife is kidnapped in Lima, Peru in the late 1990s and was inspired by Sylvester’s own experiences. When she was 3 years old and lived in Peru, her grandfather was kidnapped and held for ransom for 60 days. Although she does not remember it, she always grew up knowing it happened and wondered about the effect a kidnapping has on families, specifically her own.

“I realized I was so afraid of asking these questions, maybe that meant I should write about it,” she said. “The stories that scare us are the ones we should be telling.”

Daisy Hernandez also drew from her personal experiences for her memoir “A Cup of Water Under My Bed.” Hernandez graduated with a master of fine arts in fiction writing in 2013. She will be at the “Where We Come From” panel Nov. 22. Her book is a coming of age story that shares her experience growing up in a Cuban-Colombian household in New Jersey, and later her time pursuing a career in journalism at the New York Times.

Hernandez writes about coming to identify as a Latina and bisexual woman, a challenge that inspired her to write her story.

“I write really openly about some difficult things,” she said. “I had to first sort through a lot of my emotions around it and sort of get clarity before I could then start to think about how do I want to tell this story so that my readers can feel empathy for these characters.”

Hernandez had the chance to do her MFA in several cities, but she choose to attend UM because it was located in Miami, a place where Latinos are in the majority and positions of authority. She said it was a “powerful experience” that gave her a glimpse into what she believes will happen in the rest of the country in the next 15 years as Hispanic demographics continue to grow.

“I’m hoping that my story is more nuanced and I’m hoping that it functions as a counter-narrative against these images that are about immigrant communities,” she said.

Throughout her stories, Hernandez integrates Spanish words in the text, much like M. Evelina Galang, director of the Creative Writing Department, has been doing with Tagalog, the Filipino language. Galang’s parents immigrated from the Philippines, and she has found herself incorporating the language into the English text over the last several years.

“It feels like a really natural things to do,” Galang said. “I don’t translate, I don’t use italics, I see it as a part of the character’s world and it comes super natural to me and that’s what I’m really enjoying lately. Just writing a story from the perspective of my characters and just letting it go.”

Galang was asked to write a story for the anthology “Immigrant Voices: 21st Century Stories.” For this project, she was inspired to delve into the backstory of one of the side characters from her book “Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery.” She will be speaking at the “Immigrant Voices” panel Nov. 22.

“Sometimes when you read a story it makes you think of your own story,” Galang said. “So maybe then we start to kind of get back in touch with our own roots as immigrants, no matter if you’re a Mayflower family or a just-recently-got-here family.”

Featured photo courtesy Alan Levine via Flickr.

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Ashley Martinez is a senior majoring in journalism and psychology, which have sharpened her people-watching skills. She has worked as a staff writer, copy editor, assistant editor and is now the Edge arts and entertainment editor at The Miami Hurricane. She serves as the president of UM's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Her work has been featured in The Hurricane, Distraction Magazine, The Communique, Gables Home Page and The Miami Herald. When she's not working on a story, she loves going to the theatre and singing show tunes.