Thursday, October 1, 2009

ArtsPreview 2009-10: The season in books

Writer Orhan Pamuk.
(Illustration by Pat Crowley)

Editor's note: This is one in a series of 10 stories previewing the Palm Beach County and regional arts season for 2009-10.

By Chauncey Mabe

Readers rejoice! The show will go on, sputtering economy notwithstanding. The book show, that is.

All five major South Florida literary festivals – Miami Book Fair International, the Key West Literary Seminar, the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, the Boca Festival of the Arts, and Broward’s Lit/Live! – are scheduled to take place over the next five months in more or less their customary glory.

That’s not to say they’ve gone entirely untouched by budget cuts or donor shortfalls. The oldest, biggest and first on the schedule, the Miami Book Fair (Nov. 8-15) finds itself obliged to raise some prices and reduce some programs. No inauguration ceremony, no International Pavilions Village, no Laugh Out Loud Cafe, no Street Fair Parade.

“It will be a more contained fair this year as we have put some favorite components on ‘pause’ until next year,” says Alina Interian, executive director of the Florida Center for the Literary Arts. “But we are confident fairgoers will enjoy this year’s program as much as ever.”

The number of writers on hand is being scaled back, too, from last year’s tally of more than 400 to slightly less than 300. Still, the list is an embarrassment of riches, led by the Turkish Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood, and former Vice President Al Gore.

Other luminaries include Sherman Alexie, Robert Olen Butler, A. Manette Ansay, Taylor Branch, Brad Gooch, Mary Gordon, Ralph Nader, Meg Cabot, Francine Prose, Iggy Pop, Barbara Kingsolver, Mary Karr, Wally Lamb, Roy Blount Jr. and Mario Van Peebles, to name but a few.

“The Fair this year is very strong in spite of the economic challenges,” says Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books bookstore in Coral Gables, co-founder of the fair. “Our line up is as strong as ever and we're expecting a very vibrant literary week. We still believe it's still one of the best values around.”

Miami Book Fair International takes place at the Wolfson Campus of Miami-Dade College, 300 NE 2nd Ave., in downtown Miami. For directions and additional information, visit

This season the Key West Literary Seminar (Jan. 7-10) celebrates Richard Wilbur, a major American poet and sometime Key West resident like such predecessors as Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop and James Merrill. A former U.S. poet laureate, Wilbur has won nearly every available literary prize.

In addition to Wilbur, the seminar features 21 top poets, among them Billy Collins, Maxine Kumin, Rita Dove, Robert Pinsky, Mary Jo Salter, Mark Stand and John Tate.

“It’s been a slow pull but we’re out of the woods,” says executive director Miles Frieden. “In a normal year a stellar roster like this would have sold out at least a year in advance. A literary excursion to Key West in January is a luxury, but our audience is passionate, and they’ve come through for us.”

The accompanying writing workshops are full, says Frieden, but a few of the 400 seats for the seminar itself are still open – a rarity for a cozy and intimate literary event that usually sells out by the preceding January.

Oddly enough, Frieden adds, the 2011 seminar, The Hungry Muse: An Exploration of Food in Literature, is already experiencing early demand. “I think we're feeling a very early literary recovery,” Friden adds. “Let's hope the general economy is not far behind.”

For more information, visit, where you can also find the seminar’s excellent year-round online literary journal, Littoral.

At the Palm Beach Poetry Festival (Jan. 18-23), now in its sixth year, executive director Miles Coon met the economic challenge by taking political action.

“The festival was very active in a recent letter-writing campaign that helped persuade the Board of County Commissioners to restore 80 percent of the funding for ‘small and emerging’ cultural organizations like ours,” Coon says.

This year’s slate features Carolyn Forch√©, Stephen Dobyns, Thomas Lux, Marie Howe, David Wojhan, Kevin Young, Mary Cornish, and Ilya Kaminsky. Workshop participants pay $725 for an advanced program and $525 for an intermediate one. A number of readings are open to the public at $12 general admission, $10 for seniors and $8 for students.

The Palm Beach Poetry Festival holds most of its events at Old School Square, 51 N. Swinton Ave., in downtown Delray Beach. For more information, visit

The Festival of the Arts Boca (March 5-13) , an unusual pairing of music and literature, doesn’t have a name quite as gaudy as last year’s Salman Rushdie, but it’s an impressive lineup nonetheless.
"Once again, the Festival of the Arts Boca will bring world-class writers to South Florida,” says Susan Resneck Pierce, literary chair.

Those writers are: presidential (and baseball) historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; writer and presidential adviser Richard Goodwin; New York Times pundit David Brooks; scholar and food writer Albert Sonnenfeld; biographer Noel Riley Fitch; and the bestselling literary novelist, Gail Godwin. Tickets go on sale in October. For more information, visit

Literary Feasts, which brings some 20 national and international writers to Fort Lauderdale each March, is still in the planning stages. Set for March 19-20, the program so far includes prize-winning literary novelist Russell Banks, acclaimed popular novelist Elizabeth Kostova, chef and food w
riter Poppy Tooker, historian R.B. Bernstein and the author and graphic designer Ellen Lupton.

Sponsored by the Broward County Library Foundation and Nova Southeastern University, the Night of Literary Feasts is a society f
undraising event to benefit the library. There is also a day of free lectures by the attending writers, open to the public and held at the university’s main campus in Davie.

Many more names will be added to that list. For more information, check the library foundation’s Website,, over the coming months.

Chauncey Mabe, the former books editor of the Sun-Sentinel, can be reached at Visit him on Facebook.

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