The 3Es of Sustainable Artistic Communities

For the past twenty-six years, Miami Dade College and the Miami Book Fair International have sustained reading and writing communities in South Florida and have earned the reputation as the “nation’s premier literary gathering.” From its inception at the Wolfson Campus with the partnering of Dr. Eduardo Padron and Mitchell Kaplan, the MBFI has grown into one of the largest and most prestigious book events in North America. This has not been an accident. Indeed, with the addition of the Florida Center for Literary Arts, Cultura del Lobo, and the Miami Film Festival, Miami Dade College  has created several sustainable artistic communities and has become a model in this endeavor by offering encouragement, entertainment, and education to artists and residents of Miami.

Perhaps, the most important factor in an artist’s growth is encouragement. It gives the artist the assurance to try new things and the confidence that she is recognized for her talent. MBFI has been a pioneer in recognizing local talent in South Florida and continues this tradition each year with the Write Out Loud series. This encouragement has not only been with words or with providing venues for exposure. They have also provided economic support. As Robert McCrum has stated, “Writers have always needed enlightened patrons.” Both MBFI and MDC have certainly been “enlightened patrons.” Through the many workshops and classes that the FCLA offers, many South Florida writers such as Les Standiford, Lynne Barrett, and Emma Trelles have been monetarily rewarded for their talents. Many of the writer/professors who contribute to the literary life of Miami have earned their tenure with Miami Dade College: Ricardo Pau-Llosa, Joseph McNair, Preston Allen, Ivonne Lamazares, Steve Kronen, Michael Hettich, CM Clark, Sandra Castillo, and a Jamaican writer/blogger whose modesty will not permit me to disclose his name.

It is no surprise then that the MBFI because of its close relationship with the college has been educating many of our residents about regional and culturally significant writers. Whether its with the Big Read, One Book, One Community, or Story Time, South Florida residents have participated in events that have celebrated the work of Zora Neale Hurston, Louise Erdrich and Amy Tan. MBFI has also been a great supporter of Caribbean writers and throughout the years under the leadership of Mervyn Solomon, writers such as Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat, Wayne Brown, and Paule Marshall have been invited to read for the Caribbean writers program.

Yet, without the third element, MBFI would be just like any other niche book fair. The MBFI has a wide appeal to many audiences ranging from crime/mystery writers to environmental activists. The fair also has its famous Children’s Alley where children’s authors introduce youngsters to the world of imagination and wonder. And if that wasn’t all, there are always minstrels, jugglers, clowns, mimes, and actors dressed up as literary characters bumping into patrons as they make their way from one event to another. But the event that’s always worth staying for is the band, The Rock Bottom Remainders: Dave Barry, Stephen King, Cynthia Heimel, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, Sam Barry, Ridley Pearson, Scott Turow, Joel Selvin, James McBride, Roy Blount Jr., Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Fulghum, Matt Groening, Tad Bartimus, Greg Iles, as well as ringers Josh Kelly on drums, and Erasmo Paulo on saxophone. And believe me, it’s always a sight to see Maya Angelou shake her tambourine.

Miami Book Fair International and Miami Dade College have been an integral part in creating networks of writers, readers, educators, and sponsors who been essential to our growth as a community. More importantly, they have provided the material/economic support so that many artists have had the chance to live and work in Miami. In this its twenty-sixth year, the MBFI’s paradigm has proven to be a success because of the enormous economic and cultural benefits that we have seen in South Florida.


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