From cover to cover, 32nd Miami Book Fair celebrates diverse ideas and cultures

2014 National Book Awards panel at Miami Book Fair. Photo courtesy Miami Book Fair.

The Miami Book Fair, which takes place throughout the downtown campus of Miami Dade College Nov. 15-22, is as much a literary and cultural event as a community celebration. There are readings and panels and bookselling booths, but also a street fair atmosphere and places such as The Swamp where the stories might be told in photographs, music or film.

“Miami is such a diverse community that there’s no better way to bridge that diversity than through literature,” said Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books who, in 1984, co-founded Miami Book Fair with Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami Dade College. “That was one of the initial ideas behind the book fair: to help unite the community in so many ways.”

The fair brings hundreds of novelists, poets, publishers, booksellers and more to Miami, including scores of Spanish-speaking authors. The event became part of the Center for Writing and Literature at Miami Dade College in 2001.

Knight Foundation, which seeks “to weave the arts into the fabric of communities to engage and inspire the people living in them,” is a premier supporter of Miami Book Fair. The foundation is sponsoring several programs, such as a panel featuring National Book Award finalists and winners; the participation of independent publishers; a book lounge focusing on artist-made books, and The Swamp, a pop-up space celebrating local culture in its many forms.

Also, with Knight’s support, Detroit Public Television will provide coverage for the second year. The broadcasts will take place from Nov. 20-22, including a live stream for kids on Friday, Nov. 20, from 1-4 p.m. ET, and author interviews and features from noon-5 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 21-22.

The fair’s official opening event is Sunday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m. when poet and art-punk pioneer Patti Smith leads fair fans on a lyrical tour of her latest memoir, “M Train.”

“The Miami Book Fair, it really is a model for the successful community-based book festival around the United States. All the other festivals really do acknowledge that,” says Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards. “It is a model for how to do this well: programs all the time, the street fair, and the feeling that it’s part of the community, not something separated in some building somewhere. It’s a place you can walk through and feel that you are in a town of books.”

Throughout its history, the fair has hosted its share of National Book Award winners and finalists. But, starting last year, Miami Book Fair and the National Book Foundation collaborated on “An Evening With National Book Award Finalists and Winners,” which Knight sponsored. This year’s event, also supported by Knight, will be “an embarrassment of riches,” says Augenbraum.

Last year, the evening featured 11 finalists and, says Augenbraum, “we were all very happy because it’s very short notice; we only announce [finalists] five weeks before [the book fair] so then we have to try and hurry and see if they can make it. This year we wanted to give it more time so we decided to invite the long list of authors, that means 40 of them, and we were hoping, optimistically, that 25 would say yes and 27 have said yes so far. It’s going to be quite the blockbuster evening.”

Winners of the National Book Award will be announced Nov. 18 – two days before the panel on Friday, Nov. 20.

If the fair atmosphere, the crowds and the diversity of offerings gets to be a bit much, visitors can take a breather at EXILE + Fjords Art and Lit Book Lounge, a space hosted by EXILE Books and Fjords Review.

“We are definitely going to have a lounge-like atmosphere, very relaxed, and people will be invited to come in, browse and unwind,” says visual artist, writer and curator Amanda Keeley, founder of EXILE Books, a Knight Arts Challenge winner. “We are going to have a nice, well-rounded sampling of materials. We have invited artists to come and talk about their books, but we are not going to do it on an official schedule because the schedule of the book fair is already so full, so robust, that what we’d like to do is to have something more relaxed [and] natural happening.”

The lounge will also have “a little screening area” for films selected by Fjords as well as ”some art video screening,” says Keeley. “It will be a real comfortable and accessible atmosphere.”

As for embracing the many ways stories are being told, not just in books but with music, video and multimedia presentations, “we’ve always thought of the book fair as a gigantic tent under which people of all kinds of interest would feel comfortable,” said Miami Book Fair co-founder Kaplan. “As people tell stories in different ways, and as narrative changes, the book fair has to be able to accommodate that as well.”

Live stream coverage of Miami Book Fair will be available online at, and Some content will also be archived for on-demand viewing at and via PBS apps.

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