Buzzed Books #15 by Madison Bernath
2014 Miami Book Fair International Review
As I walked into the 2014 Miami Book Fair International, the scent of sweet corn, melted cheese, and grease blew slick in the air. Food trucks and carts littered the landscape. Children rushed about throwing bocce balls with no sense of the game, only a sense of play and blood. Passerby jumped over tables, skirting out of the way, and then flocked to stands of comic books, international books, classic books, independent books, and tiny books. Ladies in tight jeans and spike heels leaned over tables discussing the latest cookbook, the author only minutes away from a demonstration. I spotted many an old couple gripping each other’s arms, not the least bit phased by the chaos, but notably pleased. In my first forty-five minutes wandering this Miami sea of books and people, I saw Jason Segel (pushing his middle-grade thriller, Nightmares!), Ann Hood (killing an interview), and John Waters (promoting not a movie, but his new book about hitchhiking at age 68, Carsick). This, my friend, is a festival for the millions.
That night, at a ritzy party for the authors (which I crashed thanks to my press pass and The Drunken Odyssey’s own John King), a friend of mine wondered aloud if this could be a happy alternative to AWP, that shit show of writers I look forward to every year. And perhaps it could be. There were book stalls, interesting readings, panels on craft and criticism, and heavy amounts of alcohol. But there were also art exhibits, live cooking shows, and an area strictly reserved for comics—not to mention Children’s Alley, complete with characters on stilts and a tiny tent theater.
Sure, John Waters was on-stage talking bad taste and making obscene gestures with his hands, an event that I believe AWP conference goers wish could be replicated this year in Minneapolis, but, to be honest, the Miami Book Fair International crowd didn’t seem to get it. There were some buckled over in laughter, but many who walked out, heads bowed and cheeks flaming (one of whom I may or may not have tripped and to whose rescue the fire department was deployed).
Miami Book Fair International isn’t only for those who adore Carolyn Forché and Joyce Carol Oates (both of whom made an appearance). This event panders to lovers of the literary scene, but also to those that love soul food and the visual arts. This, as I said before, is a festival for the millions, hence the $8 street fair admission compared to AWP’s $285 registration fee for nonmembers. Miami Book Fair International has mass appeal. It is not a writers’ conference, but rather, an event that celebrates them—and so many others.
Madison Bernath (Episode 46 and 75) is a writer of both creative nonfiction and fiction. She graduated with an MFA from the University of Central Florida with a thesis of travel essays. She is currently a reader for Pithead Chapel and an adjunct professor at Valencia College and Seminole State College. In her free time she sucks the life out of cats and berates herself for failing to write/read something.