After all these years, the literary events season in South Florida has long reached its maturity. No more jokes about “cultural wastelands,” and publishers still send writers here on the few publicity tours they pay for each year. Why? Because so many people here read books, talk about books, and attend literary festivities.
It would be understandable if organizers of, say, Miami Books Fair International, or the Key West Literary Seminar, or the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, sat back satisfied on their laurels, content with repeating what has always worked in the past. Surely that would be enough.
But even excellence, when it becomes routine, can begin to bore. Fortunately, the major festivals here never cease looking for new angles, new ways to liven up their events.
Take the Miami Book Fair, for example. A tried and true festival, famous for bringing in hundreds of top writers in all genres, but children’s activities, cooking demonstrations, publishers booths, an antiquarian book bazaar, and, really, who knows what else. This year, however, founders Mitch Kaplan and Eduardo Padrón and their year-round staff have outdone themselves by arranging for the short list of National Book Award nominees — in all the categories — to be on hand during the fair, Nov. 16-23.
“As the awards will be announced during the week of the Fair,” says Kaplan, “we will have many, if not all, of the winners for a program that will be presented on Friday, November 21st. The other nominees will be presenting throughout the weekend.”
While much of the fair is still coming together, including the entire list of authors and events, Kaplan does have some highlights to share. These include such big-name authors as Larry McMurtry, Anne Rice, Patricia Cornwell, Chuck Todd, Joyce Carol Oates, Alexander McCall Smith, Carolyn Forché, and Walter Isaacson.
“We will also be presenting a performance piece by Ira Glass of NPR’s ‘This American Life,” Kaplan says. “He’ll be performing stories accompanied by two dancers. And, of course, all of this will be presented alongside the wonderful and varied program that our community has looked forward to for so many years.”
Miami Book Fair International will be held as always at the downtown Miami campus of Miami-Dade College, where Padrón is the president. The fair begins on Sunday, Nov. 16, with nightly appearances by distinguished authors. It culminates the following weekend in the Street Fair, when hundreds of authors descend upon Miami. Admission is $10. Once the author schedule is finalized, usually in early October, the website goes live. Check it out at http://www.miamibookfair.com/.
In January, the Key West Literary Seminar continues a tradition of approaching a variety of big topics by taking on perhaps the biggest: writing and spirituality. Under the title “How the Light Gets In: Literature of the Spirit,” the seminar runs January 8-11. Among the authors scheduled thus far, Mark Doty, Barry Lopez, Pico Iyer, Charles Johnson, A. Mannett Ansay, Marilynne Robinson, and Marilyn Nelson.
Seminar director Arlo Haskell quotes Pico Iyer, who serves as this year’s program co-chair, in describing the ambitious topic: “Our hope,” writes Iyer, “is to talk about essentials — what lasts and what is at the heart of us — through poetry, essay, fiction, and even silence; to push words as far as they can go and then to respect what remains when they give out.”
The Key West Literary Seminar, a cozy, intelligent event that gives surprisingly casual access to the famous writers when they dismount the stage, sells out every year. The registration fee is $575. To learn more, visit http://www.kwls.org/seminar33/.
This season’s Palm Beach Poetry Festival brings its usual mix of workshops and public events, featuring a dazzling slate of poets, many of them National Book Award Finalists. Perhaps the biggest names in this year’s lineup: Special guest poet Dana Gioia, a past director of the National Endowment for the Arts famed for his work in support of reading, and Patricia Smith, who began her career as a performance poet and went on to become a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award for her written poetry.
“This year we bring together very diverse voices in American poetry,” says Miles Coon, founder and executive director of the festival. “We are thrilled to have Patricia Smith back again, reading and teaching a workshop. Her poems break down barriers between us by enacting what it is to be human.”
Also on hand, Thomas Lux, the only poet to read and teach at every one of the 11 seasons of the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, as well as first-timer Linda Gregerson, an award-winning poet from the University of Michigan. Also here for the first time is Brenda Shaunessy, a Japanese-American poet who is widely published, with multiple awards to her credit.
The rest of the poets are no less distinguished — Michael Manning, Robert Wrigley, Molly Peacock, and Charles DiNord. “As always, the festival will feature two performance poets,” Coon says. “Malcolm London from Chicago and Rachel McKibbins from New York City. Both poets were recommended by Patricia Smith, who will do the honors by introducing them.”
A special event this year is Ballet’s Child, an original collaboration of poetry and dance. Choreographer Donna Murray has created a dance to accompany a suite of poems by Lani Scozzari that tell the story of a young dancer who becomes obsessed with weight and descends into an eating disorder.
“Ballet’s Child demonstrates the redemptive power of poetry,” Coon says. “Listening to Lani read the poems while they are enacted in dance is as special a poetry event as I’ve ever seen and heard.”
The Palm Beach Poetry Festival Jan. 19-24. Tuition for aspiring poets admitted to the workshops is $795, although it is possible to audit the classes for $395. All the public reading events, however, are $15, $12 for seniors and $10 for students. Admittance to Ballet’s Child is $20, $15 for seniors, and $12 for students. For more information, visit https://www.palmbeachpoetryfestival.org/home.
Last but by no means least, Literary Feast 2015, Broward County’s premier literary social event, is scheduled for March 28-30, with the preliminary LitLunch set for Feb. 20. The Night of Literary Feasts raises money for the library system, with famous writers attending dinners at various private homes in Fort Lauderdale, where admission is $175 for a single, $150 apiece for couples.
The same late of writers, however, appears at Nova Southeastern University’s Museum of Art in downtown Fort Lauderdale for a day of free literary lectures. Organizers are still putting the schedule together, so no authors have yet been confirmed, but past years have featured such literary stars as Joyce Carol Oates, Roger Kahn, Susan Cheever, Laura Lippman, Robin Cook, Dani Shapiro, and John Grogan.
“In 2015, Literary Feast will mark 27 years of bringing well-known and debut authors to Broward County to celebrate books, writing and reading,” said Dorothy Klein, executive director of the Broward Public Library Foundation. “This year, we’re moving our free event for the community — LitLIVE! — back to downtown Fort Lauderdale, where it started in the late ’80s.”