Miami Book Fair: Another literary triumph
An Associated Press story 10 days ago called Miami Book Fair International “recession proof.” Now that this year’s edition — the 26th — is behind us, I say, “Recession? What stinking recession?!”
Judging from the capacity crowds at book fair venues large and small, for writers famous and obscure, for literary writers and show biz celebrities, South Florida readers were clearly in a mood to forget the economy in favor of the riches only literature can provide.
Celebrities like Al Gore, Iggy Pop, and comedians John Hodgman and Larry Wilmore may have packed the fair’s biggest room, The Chapman Conference Center, which holds upwards of a thousand people. But so did literary titans Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Jeanneatte Walls, Orhan Pamuk and Tracy Kidder.
Smaller venues were often standing room only, too. People had to be turned away from a pavilion featuring Leonard Pitts Jr. and Ana Menendez. In another tent right next door, a nearly capacity crowd listened to a panel of literary women’s writers, Lydia Davis, Jill McCorkle, Mary Karr and Jayne Anne Phillips.
Thousands thronged the exhibitors booths. Squeals of delight and laughter fluttered from the Children’s Alley. Lines of people sometimes hundreds strong waited patiently to get books signed by favorite authors.
On Sunday, more than a hundred people showed up at 11 a.m. for a nonfiction panel featuring essayists and biographers Brad Gooch, Philip Lopate, Kenneth Turan and Francine Prose. They were rewarded to an intellectually challenging discussion, clearly expressed. I learned new things about Anne Frank , Joe Papp, Flannery O’Connor and Susan Sontag.
Not all the joys of book fair come from on stage. Meeting old friends and chatting about books and writers is a constant source of energizing fun. For someone who has been attending and covering the book fair for 24 years, I relished the chance to reconnect with people.
Some of my personal highlights:
–Chatting with freelancer Ellen Kanner and Granta editor John Freeman — and realizing I had used book reviews by each of them, probably on the same day, when I was book editor at the Sun Sentinel.
–Talking H.P. Lovecraft with literary novelist Dan Choan.
–Bumping into old acquaintances, like the writers Robert Olen Butler, Gwen Cooper, Ana Menendez, Christine Kling, Tara Kai, Les Standiford, Campbell McGrath, Lynne Barrett, John Dufresne, Connie Ogle (the Miami Herald‘s book critic) and David Plumb, one of the most underrated poets in America (check out some of his poems to see if you agree with me).
–Introducing crime novelists Paul Levine and Jeff Lindsay, who kept their audience in a state of constant laughter with an unending series of jokes and wisecracks.
–Margaret Atwood singing a hymn from her new novel, The Year of the Flood.
–Jill McCorkle reading a hilarious story, “My Big Foot.”
–Barbara Kingsolver, striding the stage, microphone in hand, like an evangelist for literature.
–Tracy Kidder speaking with quiet passion about the lack of medical care in Burundi.
–Jeannette Walls talking eloquently for 35 minutes without notes.
–David Small, after his Comix Galaxy appearance, confessing that he’s still stunned by the huge success of his graphic-novel memoir, Stitches.
–Isabella Rossellini showing examples of her short film series, Green Porno, and explaining her writing process (she gets up at six and writes till 11).
And really, these are only a tiny fraction of the pleasures on offer during the eight days of the 2009 Miami Book Fair International, which concluded yesterday. No wonder organizers in Los Angeles, Boston, Nashville and elsewhere have copied the format pioneered in Miami in 1984.
I hope you didn’t miss it.