Mitchell Kaplan wins a National Book Award for lifetime achievement.
Come November Mitchell Kaplan will face a tough choice: Does he stay home to shepherd the Miami Book Fair, as he has for a quarter century, or does he pick up his lifetime achievement prize in New York?
For a list of upcoming activities at the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, visit the center’s website. And mark your calendar: This year’s Miami Book Fair International runs Nov. 13-20.
Because not even Kaplan, who is sometimes referred to by admirers in Miami as “St. Mitch,” can be in two places at one time. Can he?
Kaplan is certainly one of the most beloved figures in South Florida, where his Books & Books stores are a cultural institution, and where he co-founded and continues to help guide Miami Book Fair International.
Kaplan remains chairman of the book fair’s board of directors, and he serves on the steering committee of the Florida Center for the Literary Arts. He’s also served as president of the American Booksellers Assocation, the trade group for independent bookstores, and on the board of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, a watchdog for issues of free speech.
In a 2007 interview, as Books & Books prepared to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Kaplan told me that being a bookseller was his form of self exprssion.
“Somehow, acting as a conduit between authors and readers assuages the creative urges I have,” he said. “And the way we do it is unique and expressive. It certainly expresses our own sensibility.”
If Kaplan is a dreamer, though, then he’s one with a hard nose and a keen business sense. During the past decade, a time when bookstores, including big chains like the recently defunct Borders, have suffered declines, Books & Books has judiciously expanded beyond Miami into a min-empire.
In addition to locations in Coral Gables, Miami Beach and Bal Harbor, which Kaplan has operated for many years, there are now Books & Books stores in Grand Cayman, West Hamptons Beach, N.Y., Miami Airport, and the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.
Kaplan’s recognition for lifetime acheivement, the Literian Award, was announced yesterday by the National Book Foundation, according to the Washington Post. Poet John Ashbery will also receive a lifetime achievement award, the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Award ceremony in New York on Nov. 16.
That’s smack in the middle of this year’s Miami Book Fair, of course. But I say: Go, Mitchell. Pick up the award. You earned it. And besides, the book fair will run fine without you for a couple of days. But hurry back.