State of the Re:Union does Miami

By | June 2nd, 2011 | No Comments

We didn’t scrap together a podcast this week (as scheduled), but luckily Al Letson, host of NPR’s State of the Re:Union, stepped in with a nearly-hour-long episode that makes a valiant and vivid attempt at the impossible, to figure Miami out. Here’s the teaser from the show’s website:

Famous for its beaches and clubs, Miami is also the 3rd poorest city in the nation. If you own a store in South Beach, your customers are equally likely to be billionaires or homeless people. And, on top of that, they’re very likely to have started life somewhere else. Miami is an incredibly international city — but not in the way many others are. Here, instead of working towards assimilation and blending with one another, ethnic communities exist as a patchwork, remaining like isolated microcosms of their homeland.

The episode begins in Little Havana and chronicles the area’s ongoing transformation from Ground Zero of the Cuban exile to a tourist-frequented hub for people from all over Latin America. It then heads south, into the heart of Haitian Miami, to discover how the earthquake that devastated Haiti 18 months ago reverberated here. We also hear an ode in the form of a letter, addressed to Miami, written and read by acclaimed Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat. An excerpt:

One of the things I love about you, Miami, is that, in addition to your house wives and basketball wives, your vices and burn notices, you are so full of other stories … You don’t have many secrets. Maybe that’s why novelists and other storytellers love you so much. No one will ever be surprised that you are both dirt poor and filthy rich, and I’m not just talking about money either.

The last half of the episode is spent in Overtown with Marvin Dunn, who tells the history of the “Harlem of the South” and the story of the Roots in the City farmers’ market, which he founded years ago to help feed Overtown residents. From there we hear the story of Leroy Jones, a three-time convict and former dope-needle seller who became the first black non-professional to win Miami’s Merit award and a vital force in the city’s business community.

As with so many Miami nights, the episode ends at the club, with a segment on the Spam Allstars.

It’s an entertaining journey and a good way to spend 51 minutes and 27 seconds, if you’ve got it. You can listen to show on or right here (after the jump). Also, make sure to check out SOTRU’s blog post on the O, Miami poetry festival, which features an impossibly handsome picture, taken by our very own Robby Campbell, of O, Miami founders P. Scott Cunningham and Pete Borrebach and some guy named James Franco.

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Edwidge Danticat talks Haiti’s dark side at the Book Fair

By | November 21st, 2010 | No Comments
Edwidge Danticat at Book Fair

Edwidge Danticat and M.J. Fievre at the Book Fair

A maggot-infested “half-dead man” and a toxic trash heap — “a gash in the earth that eats up everything” — both figure in Haiti Noir, the lastest collection of short stories in the Akashic Books Noir series. The collection was edited by Haitian-born writer, off-and-on Miami local, and McArthur Genius Award recipient Edwidge Danticat, who appeared with fellow contributors on Sunday at the Miami Book Fair. With a brutal history of violent oppression, an earthquake-ravaged infrastructure, and a fatal cholera outbreak ongoing, Haiti is an island nation in which the noir genre may feel more like realism. Still, the writers on the panel — Danticat, Mark Kurlansky, M.J. Fievre, and Marie K. Theodore-Pharel — inspired with their ability to craft literature out of Haiti’s darkness and still smile and laugh and galvanize. “The light … is that we have brilliant people writing right now,” Danticat said.

The notion that art and literature could play a crucial role in pulling Haiti out of the abyss was a motif of the discussion. “Write what you know, what you have lived,” Fievre said. “Just write.” The panel member’s dedication to Haiti flowed from different sources. Kurlansky said his fascination started when he saw a souvenir mask carved out of black wood as a child. Like the character in his story — Izzy Goldstein, a Jewish kid who nonetheless “felt in his heart that he was really Haitian” — Kurlansky was drawn to the island by an inexplicable force. He later covered Haiti for years as a Chicago Tribune reporter. “I think I’ve learned more about life and human beings, and what is good and what is bad in human beings, from Haiti than from any other part of my life,” he said.

Through darkness and mystery and murder, the goal of Haiti Noir is to share those lessons with the world.

Top Ten Miami Book Fair International Events

By | November 14th, 2010 | No Comments


The week-long Miami Book Fair International starts today, and with hundreds of events on the schedule choosing the ten best is no easy task. As in a game of musical chairs, inevitably one rare literary opportunity or another finds itself without a spot on the list. Which is to say, the Fair boasts enough high-quality guests and events to make a book worm wriggle with glee. But with only 24 hours in the day and a $10 fee to see some of the headliners (John Waters, Patti Smith, Pat Conroy), you’re likely going to have to make some choices. To help you decide, here, in chronological order, are our top ten recommendations, which include a few of the big names, some local writers, and mostly freebies.

1. Jay-Z in conversation with Cornel West via webcast (Monday, Nov. 15 @ 7 p.m.)

While this would be far cooler in person, don’t miss a rare chance to hear two very different American iconoclasts shooting the breeze. Jay-Z will discuss Decoded, “an intimate, first-hand account of an artist, his work, and the culture that so powerfully shaped him.”

Admission: Free

2. Cuba: My Revolution (Monday, Nov. 15 – Sunday, Nov. 21)

This exhibition will showcase originals from Inverna Lockpez’s 1960 graphic novel Cuba: My Revolution, “the story of a teenager who put aside her dreams of being an artist to become a doctor and militiawoman when Fidel Castro came to power.” The exhibit features originals for the book by acclaimed comics creator Dean Haspiel and reproductions of Lockpez’s 1960s drawings.

Admission: Free

3. John Waters, Role Models (Wednesday, Nov. 17 @ 8 p.m.)

Perhaps “the filthiest person alive” for more than 40 years, John Waters will discuss his collection of essays on Tennessee Williams, a lesbian stripper, and a Charles Manson devotee (among others). Question is, Will he ride in on a pink flamingo?

Admission: $10 ticket required

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