Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus was abuzz with children, renowned literary figures and more than 200,000 hungry readers as the 31st annual Miami Book Fair International brightened the urban setting from Nov. 16 through the 23.
This year’s fair featured a new partnership between the Knight Foundation and the Center for Writing and Literature @ Miami Dade College which enabled coverage of the fair by PBS as well as a new pop-up venue dedicated to Floridian stories and multimedia called The Swamp.
“[The Swamp] was very successful. Everybody was really excited to have a place where they can just hang out,” said Lissette Mendez, director of programs at The Center and has been working with the Book Fair for 11 years.
Mendez called the Swamp the living room of the fair, a place where people could just hang out and be with friends. The venue featured events such as a conversation between musical icons from two different generations of American music, Questlove and George Clinton.
Fair organizers put a heavy emphasis on child-oriented programming, featuring music, arts and crafts and more. Between Thursday and Friday, the Fair hosted about 9,000 children, most were bussed to the Wolfson Campus on field trips. Hosting the school kids was challenging because of the overcast and rainy weather that hung over the Fair on Friday, but the children managed to enjoy the event, regardless.
“All the parents I talked to love it because the kids are learning but they’re having fun while they’re learning,” Mendez said. “It’s like playing for them, but it’s a learning opportunity too.”
Mendez mentioned the Fair has grown significantly since its inception 31 years ago.
“We have hundreds more authors, we have dozens of programs that we didn’t have when Book Fair first started,” Mendez said. “The Fair is new every year.”
The Center begins prepping for the Fair in February. Through the end of this year, the Center’s immediate responsibilities involve cleaning up after the Street Fair, returning borrowed equipment and paying invoices for services provided.
Come January, they will reset and continue their regular programming of cultural and literary events. One of the first events will feature Cuban-American author Miguel Fernandez, a Miami native who owns a number of Navarro stores and has written a book on how he’s given back to his community. Additionally, the Center will continue its sponsorship of The Big Read, a national program by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) where specific books are promoted based on a theme and authors are sent to classrooms to promote reading amongst children.
“I work every second of [the Book Fair],” Mendez added. “But I enjoy it because I love it; I love my job.”