On the Cultural History of the Miami Book Fair
Mitchell Kaplan, Lissette Mendez and Madeline Pumariega on The Literary Life Podcast
This week, Mitchell Kaplan talks with Miami Book Fair program director Lissette Mendez and Madeline Pumariega on the almost 40 years of the Fair, how it’s changed over the years, and how this year will be conducted.
Mitchell Kaplan: As a native of Miami, as someone who grew up here to know that there’s a through line that links and serves the diversity that is Miami, because the one thing that that makes Miami unique from any other American city is its incredible diversity. Whether it’s the Asian community, the African-American community, the Cuban community now, the Venezuelan community, the Nicaraguan community, the Caribbean community. I mean, we are a microcosm of America and the fact that the college has been the engine to make something happen like the Miami Book Fair, because it would not happen but for the college, speaks volumes for the culture that had been developed at Miami Dade College. It’s kind of remarkable when I think about it because, you know, as a young person here, I grew up with everyone telling me, Oh, you’re from Miami? Nothing really serious happens in Miami.
When we could put this book fair on and people in New York as a young bookseller, I would ask for an author and they would go, Well, we have this new non-prescription drug book out, and we’ll be happy to send that author. I’d go, no, no, no, no, you don’t understand. People here in Miami, they read Susan Sontag, Mario Vargas Llosa, you know, Carlos Fuentes, you know, James Laughlin. They read all these folks, so we want those guys. So when those guys came down and audiences came, it felt so good to know that when you build it and they will come. Now to have both of you now … to make it happen and keep it going, it’s going to live for another fifty years—as long as global warming doesn’t get us.