The View From The Miami Book Fair
I hadn’t been here in years. It is truly a blend of cultures. You feel like you’re in Latin America. You speak in English. The response is in Spanish.
I am attending the Miami Book Fair and writing workshops. Not sure why I really came, but on paper I can give you plenty of rational answers. Curiosity is probably at the core. I have never been to one, and my friend, Billy Gwynn, has just finished a manuscript. I am hopeful. I have a book that needs a bit of a jump start . Maybe I can get re-energized.
Each night there is a prominent author speaker. They are all at the top of their game. Here’s the line up.
Tom Wolfe kicks off. He is considered by many an icon, the Mark Twain of our era. His book “Back To Blood” has just been released It is set in Miami. He is asked what he means by the title. “We all form our identity groups with people who act and think like we do,” he says. In summary, Our dress and behavior is largely dictated by conforming to the structure of our group. More importantly we consider our group as the one that has it right. I’m not sure I had thought about it precisely that way, but on reflection it struck a respondent chord. We do look for people who think and behave similarly to us. We do yearn for acceptance in our appearances and behavior patterns. What I hadn’t thought so much about is that the way I see the world the best way to see it. I guess so. Obviously political, religious, and various ideological viewpoints define many people and each feels that the lens through which that view is held is the best. So when we are tested, it is the beliefs of our group that define us and Wolfe referred to this as our blood.
The next night we are entertained by Junot Diaz. Winner of the $500,000 MacAuthur genius grant. His book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao not only won a Pulitzer prize but a raft of other awards and was hailed by some as the best book of the previous ten years. At MIT he’s a college teacher; but energetically, a rebellious street smart intellectual, with an attitude and a comedic presentation. He is a real crowd pleaser.
Diaz opens up by saying that he feels the presidential election is the miracle of a new dawning, the emerging voice of the young, the women, and the minority groups that together are defining a new country. The old guard of the wealthy white male Caucasian is now being challenged.
I was thinking as he was speaking that perhaps the driving force of America during the last two hundred years has been the idea of the individual. This land allowed anyone, by dint of hard work, to achieve success regardless of background, more so than anywhere else in the world. It is still true. Yet, simultaneously it appears that for many the rewards of this competitive struggle is at the expense of other values. People are observing often hollow victories as success often comes at the expense and well-being of others. For a lot of people the Golden years have not been that golden, not because people failed at their quest for money, but because the things they thought would bring happiness were illusory. It didn’t take kids long to see this pattern emerging. A new value system of cooperation and looking out for one another is a more compelling force. Maybe the conscious act of working together will become more valued than simply focusing on what one can achieve. Wealth might become defined as the accessibility to varied experiences. Food for thought.
The next night Dean Nicholas Lemann of the Columbia School of Journalism interviews Mirta Ojita winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Jounalism. She was part of the Mariel boatlift from Cuba in 1980. My mind wandered as I listened to these people talk about the essence of journalism-seeking the truth and then wondered how come no journalists were really fighting to promote Dr. Greer’s Disclosure project. At the end of the presentation I was able to confront a speaker from Univision, on this very matter. He said, “You have to find the most skeptical journalist and challenge them.” I wondered!
Thursday night, Adam Gopnik, a delightful long time staff writer for the New Yorker posed the question“Why should anybody listen to an author read what he or she has written? After all we can all read can’t we!” His latest book, “From The Table” builds interesting linkages between food and our morality and morays. After a long long marriage, he says that the formula is made up of the three “L’s.” Laughter, Lust, and Loyalty. Loyalty alone won’t do the job and if you are trying to repair a tired marriage, you can’t do it with lust, you have to go through the laughter door first. He kept us laughing.
Glad I came.
I’ll tell you next about the writing workshops.