The Miami Book Fair International includes events, parties and readings, studded with stars of prose and poetry, is the pre-eminent literary festival in the country. The Book Fair presents more than 350 international authors during its eight-day run; celebrating its 31st anniversary in November of 2014, the Book Fair is not only the most widely anticipated event in the city, but the foremost affair of its kind in the nation. Authors and readers alike, from near and far, anticipate this week-long salute to all things literary – not to mention the parties and other festivities that go along with it.
The Back Story
In the early 1980s, some creative heads from Miami-Dade College and Miami’s only independent bookstore, Books & Books, got together and brainstormed on some important questions. How could they highlight a history of famous local authors? How could they shine the spotlight on a native community of writers and poets, many of whom also teach the craft in the city’s colleges and universities? How could they bring authors together with their publishers and their public for mutual benefit?
In short, how could they make Miami a destination for literary tourism?
The answer, of course, was the Miami International Book Fair, presented and produced by The Center for Literature and Theatre @ Miami-Dade College. Originally called Books by the Bay, it launched in 1984 as a two-day street fair that was immediately successful. In 1985, such renowned writers as Mario Vargas Llosa, Garrison Keillor and Allen Ginsberg appeared to read to grateful audiences.
By the next decade, it had been renamed and was attracting thousands of attendees, not to mention noteworthy authors, including John Updike, Isabelle Allende, Tom Wolfe, Alice Walker and Hunter S. Thompson (who famously poured a bottle of Wild Turkey over himself).
Leading up to the Fair, which takes place annually during the third week of November, The Center for Literature and Theatre @ Miami Dade College sponsors readings and master classes with celebrity writers.
The Center for Literature and Theatre @ Miami Dade College, founded in 2001 as the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, is an “academic and cultural initiative of Miami-Dade College” that oversees “the planning of the Fair, embracing a festival that is very much a part of the cultural fabric of South Florida,” notes the Fair’s website.
Co-presented by Books & Books, literary illuminati in October and November include memoirist Elizabeth Gilbert, poet Billy Collins and novelists Helen Fielding and Donna Tartt. Several of these author events, featuring guests from Latin America, will be conducted in Spanish only. Indeed, throughout the Fair, the Ibero-American Authors Program will present a full program in Spanish (Programa de Autores Iberoamericanos en español).
Venues and times may vary; visit the Books & Books website or the Book Fair’s anniversary page for more information.
The Rising Action
The Book Fair kickoff is always on a Sunday with the first session of the “Evenings With…” series. The six total “Evenings With…” feature readings and conversations with some of the most renowned authors of our time, and the first Sunday in particular always proves to be a dynamic installation. For 2013, novelist Dan Brown is the inaugural author. Because of the popularity of the series, authors like Brown are booked at the Gusman Center for Performing Arts, and tickets are $15.
Every year, the Fair mines one particular country’s rich literary ore. In 2013, for the 30th celebration – and the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s first visit to Florida – the Fair presents Spain’s literary and cultural traditions in a tented exhibit at one corner of the Street Fair.
The weekend Street Fair, taking place Friday, November 22 through Sunday, November 24, is the centerpiece of the Miami International Book Fair. Taking place on several blocks of downtown Miami, where the Wolfson Campus of Miami-Dade College is located, the Street Fair presents more than two hundred booksellers and other vendors. Surrounding it, the rooms, auditoriums and galleries of Miami-Dade College feature scheduled readings of new books all day long.
In addition, several special programs are presented at this time, including the Children’s Alley, an interactive area for young readers; the Antiquarian Annex, a showcase of rare tomes; and Comix Galaxy, a display of comic books and graphic novels.
Finally, the Fair also offers The Kitchen, which presents cookbook authors conducting demonstrations, as well as panels for food enthusiasts, in partnership with the college’s Miami Culinary Institute. A large gathering of food vendors and trucks also feeds those whose hunger for books and food alike has been piqued.