A literary buffet: 33rd Miami Book Fair draws South Florida residents to a common table

The 33rd edition of Miami Book Fair, Nov. 13 through Nov. 20, turns the streets and campus of Miami Dade College in downtown Miami into a city of books — and more. There is storytelling in song, images and conversation, as much as in printed word, all celebrated in a street fair setting that gives this the nation’s largest literary festival, presented and produced by Miami Dade College, the feel of a community feast.

Highlights of this year’s Miami Book Fair include a new program, ReadCaribbean, focusing on Caribbean literature and authors; tweaks to the popular The Porch, an urban hangout at the corner of Northeast Second Avenue and Northeast Third Street; the continuing collaboration with the National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards, bringing finalists and winners in the fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young adult literature categories to Miami to participate in talks, readings and other events; and a substantial presence of small presses, independent publishers, zine, comics and art books. Knight Foundation, a premier supporter of Miami Book Fair, sponsors all of these programs.

Knight Foundation also supports Detroit Public Television coverage via multiple platforms, including,, PBS Facebook, PBS station websites, and “PBS NewsHour.” Other coverage includes C-SPAN’S BookTV live broadcasts from Miami Book Fair.

“One of the most important things for us, something that we try to emphasize, is that the book fair is a place where we are helping to create community,” said Lissette Mendez, director of programs at Miami Book Fair, which also presents literary events throughout the year. “If you come to the fair, no matter where you are from, you don’t even need to have money. You don’t have to buy a book and getting in is the least-expensive thing that you can do in Miami in any given day.”

Miami Book Fair opens Nov. 13 with a series of readings and discussions on the Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus that continues for six nights. The Street Fair opens Friday, Nov. 8, and continues through the weekend, complemented by even more signings, discussions and events at the college. Tickets for “Evenings With…” are available online. Admission to the Street Fair weekend is free on Friday, Nov. 18, and $8 Saturday, Nov. 19, and Sunday, Nov. 20. The cost for those 13-18 and older than 62 is $5. Children 12 and younger enter free. The Street Fair is free for Miami Dade College faculty, staff and students with valid ID.

The fair also features an extensive IberoAmerican Program, with more than 80 Spanish-speaking authors from around the world.  That programming kicks off Nov. 13 with “An Evening With Journalist Jorge Ramos,” and continues throughout the week and Street Fair weekend.

The Porch, which Mendez once defined as “a place within the fair in which we have community building in a concentrated way,” was for the past two years the complementary area for The Swamp, an indoor, multidisciplinary performing space funded by Knight Foundation. This year there is no Swamp, so The Porch takes on a larger role as a space to catch your breath, relax and have some smart fun, but also as a performing area. The wide-ranging programming this year includes events as disparate as a tacos and tequila night, improvisational comedy, do-it-yourself notebook making, mystery and crime writing with Noir at the Bar, and, of course, this being Miami, music.

 “This is the first year The Porch has its own identity, separate from something else,” said Nicole Swift, Miami Book Fair program coordinator. “After the Knight Arts Challenge grant [for The Swamp] was over, we wanted to keep some of the energy and the vibe that lounge area brought to the book fair and give it its own identity. We wanted to create a pop-up community space that still featured local culture makers but would also provide that area where, after being surrounded by books, you could read them, talk about them, rest, hang out on a sofa or catch some music.”

“I feel literature can be found in music, in art, in performances,” said Swift. “Everybody’s doing their own storytelling in a different medium and I see this as part of our mandate for getting Miami stories, and stories from all over the world, to readers, listeners and watchers.”

For an even more literary experience, the National Book Awards partners with Miami Book Fair for the third year in a row to offer “An Evening With National Book Award Nominees,” sponsored by Knight Foundation. Thirty of the 43 nominees are expected to participate in the event Friday, Nov. 18. “It is one of the coolest things we do,” said Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation. “We are the National Book Foundation and it’s really huge for us that readers around the country have access to the writers we celebrate.”

But then again, one of the key pieces of this year’s Miami Book Fair may be found at the other end of the publishing spectrum, with authors and publishers representing more than 20 independent and small presses such as Burrow Press, City Lights Publishing, Liberi Mapou, Editorial Verbum, ReadJamaica, Jai-Alai Books, Seven Stories, Exile Books and Toon Books.

 “Supporting the ecosystem of independent publishing and independent thinking in the United States is very important to all of us who toil in this industry,” said Mendez. “The more independent publishers we have, the better. Everybody’s been very happy to have the support because independent publishers are working with very tight margins and Miami is a great place for a book fair — but it’s also very costly. Having free booths has really made it possible for them to come down and be part of the fair.”

The Orlando-based nonprofit Burrow Press is a case in point. In existence since 2008, this is the first year it has been able to participate in the fair.

“This [support] made it possible for us to come,” said publisher Ryan Rivas. “Because the portion of our budget allocated to the publishing endeavor is such that we have to be very, very careful. We publish books that have to do with Florida, and in 2014 we even published an anthology of Miami writers, so we want to be at the Miami Book Fair every year and we are working towards expanding our budget, [but] we probably wouldn’t have been able to make it if it weren’t for the generosity of [Miami] Book Fair and how they reached out to small publishers.”

Fernando González is a Miami-based arts and culture writer. He can be reached via email at [email protected].

Miami Book Fair begins, Sunday, Nov. 13, with daily events through Sunday, Nov. 20. ReadCaribbean takes places Saturday, Nov. 19, through Sunday, Nov. 20. Street Fair tickets are available in advance online. For more, visit, and follow Miami Book Fair on Twitter @miamibookfair