Monday, October 25, 2010

ArtsPreview 2010-11: The season in books

Former President George W.‭ ‬Bush.
‭ (‬Illustration by Pat Crowley‭)

By Chauncey Mabe

The economy may still look scary,‭ ‬but for South Florida’s four major literary festivals,‭ ‬there will be no double-dip recession.‭ ‬Learning from last year’s challenges,‭ ‬each plans robust programs for the serious and casual book lover over the coming season.

Take‭ ‬Miami Book Fair International‭ (‬Nov.‭ ‬14-21‭)‬,‭ ‬the region’s oldest and biggest literary festival,‭ ‬and the first one on the calendar.‭ ‬Last year,‭ ‬says Alina Interian,‭ ‬executive director,‭ ‬fair organizers found they could do away with‭ ‬some longstanding features,‭ ‬such as the Street Fair parade,‭ ‬and still preserve the essence of the event.

‭“‬We constantly monitor our budget to stay cost-effective,‭” ‬Interian says.‭ “‬Public funding continues to be limited.‭ ‬Corporate support has improved some,‭ ‬but not as much as we’d like.‭ ‬We’re counting on individual support,‭ ‬vendor and exhibitor fees and admission fees.‭ ‬Thank God for Miami-Dade College,‭ ‬which is our backbone.‭”

Even with money constraints,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬the book fair will still feature‭ ‬300‭ ‬national and international authors.‭ ‬And if anything,‭ ‬the roster‭ (‬still evolving in late summer/early fall‭) ‬is more impressive than ever.

Jonathan Franzen.

‭“‬An Evening with George Bush‭” ‬opens the fair,‭ ‬less than a week after the publication of the former president’s highly anticipated memoir,‭ ‬Decision Points.‭ ‬The fair has also snagged literary It-Boy,‭ ‬Jonathan Franzen,‭ ‬whose‭ ‬Freedom is the most hotly debated American novel in years.

Other prominent figures on the schedule:‭ ‬Patti Smith,‭ ‬whose rock memoir‭ ‬Just Kids received rave reviews earlier this year‭; ‬biologist E.O.‭ ‬Wilson,‭ ‬a two-time Pulitzer-winning science writer‭; ‬Dave Eggers,‭ ‬novelist,‭ ‬nonfiction writer,‭ ‬publisher,‭ ‬screenwriter,‭ ‬and all-around‭ ‬21st-century literary renaissance man.

Interian says one item dropped last year‭ – ‬the international pavilion‭ – ‬is returning.‭ ‬But instead of a‭ “‬village,‭” ‬with several countries represented,‭ ‬this year’s fair will focus on just one:‭ ‬Mexico.

Mitchell Kaplan,‭ ‬one of the fair’s founders,‭ ‬says a number of Mexican writers and political figures will be on hand,‭ ‬including Carlos Fuentes‭ – ‬who,‭ ‬as a leading Latin American novelist and former ambassador to Britain and France,‭ ‬qualifies as both.

And after a year off,‭ ‬the Rock Bottom Remainders returns.‭ ‬For the uninitiated,‭ ‬that’s the garage band featuring authors like Stephen King,‭ ‬Dave Barry and Amy Tan.‭

“It’s a good one this year,‭” ‬Kaplan says of the fair.‭ “‬Be there or be square.‭”

In Key West,‭ ‬where the annual literary seminar will celebrate the literature of food,‭ ‬executive director Miles Frieden joked in early September that he was beginning to panic.‭ ‬After many years of early sell-outs,‭ ‬last year’s registrations lagged well into the fall before picking up again.

‭“‬We seem to be in the same straits this year,‭” ‬Frieden says.‭ “‬We’re not immune from the economy.‭”

Contributing to Frieden’s nerves is the decision to hold two sessions,‭ ‬one Jan.‭ ‬6-9,‭ ‬and a second Jan.‭ ‬13-16.‭ ‬As of early September,‭ ‬neither session was full,‭ ‬though the first will certainly sell out,‭ ‬Freiden says.‭ (‬For information,‭ ‬see‭ ‬‭)

“We don’t make the decision to do double sessions lightly,‭” ‬Frieden says.‭ “‬It’s a risk for us.‭ ‬But when we turn away our regulars because we’ve sold out,‭ ‬they beat up on me and I get bruised.‭”

Ruth Reichl.

Intimate and casual,‭ ‬the‭ ‬Key West Literary Seminar remains a bargain at‭ ‬$495.‭ ‬This year’s list of authors includes Ruth Reichl,‭ ‬Calvin Trillin,‭ ‬Billy Collins,‭ ‬Frank Bruni,‭ ‬Roy Blount Jr.,‭ ‬Diana Abu-Jabr,‭ ‬Elizabeth Berg,‭ ‬Mark Kurlansky,‭ ‬and many others.

Freiden concedes the topic‭ – ‬formal title:‭ ‬The Hungry Muse:‭ ‬An Exploration of Food in Literature‭ – ‬is a bit lighter than usual.‭

“I fear some people may stay away because they think the topic is frivolous,‭” ‬he explains.‭ “‬This may not be the most literary thing we’ve ever done,‭ ‬but I say it’s the most literary food thing ever done.‭”

But the main reason for slow registrations,‭ ‬Frieden says,‭ ‬is the obvious one.

‭“‬I think we’ll be fine,‭ ‬it’s just making me nervous.‭ ‬But I guess a lot of people are nervous.‭”

Robert Pinsky.

Last year’s‭ ‬Palm Beach Poetry Festival may have been a success‭ – ‬the workshops sold out and the public readings were well-attended‭ – ‬but that doesn’t mean founding director Miles Coon isn’t making refinements.

In response to an online survey of last year’s participants,‭ ‬Coon is adding more craft lectures and more opportunities for featured poets to participate in educational events.

‭“‬We’ve added value and didn’t raise our tuition rates,‭” ‬Coon says.‭ “‬Our numbers of applications to date are almost twice what they were last year at this time.‭”

Held in Delray Beach from Jan‭ ‬17-22,‭ ‬the festival’s biggest name this season is former U.S.‭ ‬poet laureate Robert Pinsky.‭ ‬Award-winning spoken-word poets D.‭ ‬Blair and Taylor Mali are also featured readers.

‭ ‬The workshop faculty includes Thomas Lux,‭ ‬Heather McHugh,‭ ‬Jane Hirschfield,‭ ‬C.D.‭ ‬Wright,‭ ‬Dean Young,‭ ‬Stuart Dischell,‭ ‬V.J.‭ ‬Seshadri and Ellen Bryant Young,‭ ‬all of whom will also take part in public readings and panel discussions.

Registration closes Nov‭ ‬2‭ (‬visit‭)‬.‭ ‬Full registration is‭ ‬$725,‭ ‬while auditor’s registration is‭ ‬$350‭ – ‬an increasingly popular choice,‭ ‬says Coon,‭ ‬for beginning poets,‭ ‬who get to sit on lectures and workshop without having to submit their poems to scrutiny.‭

Big changes,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬are planned for‭ ‬Literary Feast,‭ ‬Fort Lauderdale’s major literary festival‭ – ‬but they are mostly of a scheduling variety.

‭ ‬LitLive‭! ‬the day of free lectures and readings at Nova Southeastern University,‭ ‬will be held on Sunday instead of Saturday,‭ ‬and start at‭ ‬12:30‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬instead of‭ ‬10‭ ‬a.m.

‭“‬We hope to target some of the younger college students who don’t get up on Saturday morning,‭” ‬says Natasha Rogers,‭ ‬special events coordinator for the Broward County Public Library Foundation.

The Night of Literary Feasts will remain on Saturday night,‭ ‬where it moved last year after more than two decades as a Friday event.‭ ‬These scheduling changes save money on airfare‭ – ‬more than‭ ‬20‭ ‬authors fly in to participate‭ – ‬without diminishing the scope of the festival,‭ ‬Rogers says.

Jane Velez-Mitchell.

Literary Feast takes place March‭ ‬26-27.‭ ‬Attendance at the Sunday lectures is free.‭ ‬Tickets for Night of Literary Feast are‭ ‬$150‭ ‬each.‭ ‬Only two authors‭ – ‬Headline News anchor Jane Velez-Mitchell and Elizabeth Nunez,‭ ‬author of the novel‭ ‬Anna In Between,‭ ‬are confirmed.

But many more will join them over the next few months Last year’s event included such luminaries as Elizabeth Kostova,‭ ‬Russell Banks,‭ ‬Achy‭ ‬Obeyas and Lisa See.‭ ‬Check the Website‭ ‬--‭‭ ‬--‭ ‬for developments.

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