“Books” and “poems” are likely not the first thing people imagine when they draw up images of Miami. The sun on South Pointe Beach, the lights of the nightlife, the booming music speakers and the taste of a cafecito probably are. But there’s a dedicated group of people who are working to get literature on that list.
The Miami Book Fair, which wrapped this weekend and celebrated its 40th year, is an integral part of the South Florida community.
The writer panels, booths of local publishers and eager book lovers are part of a mission that transcends the city’s geography: It’s about Miami’s roles in the literary landscape.
“I think that a lot of people think of Miami as a party town and we have so much more to offer them than that,” said Nicole Tallman, author and poetry ambassador of Miami-Dade County. “We have a lot of local talent here and I’d really like Miami to get its due in terms of being recognized in that way.”
Andrew Otazo, author of “The Miami Creation Myth,” agrees.
“We have incredible poets, playwrights, novelists, everything here in South Florida,” Otazo said. “You don’t need to import people from New York or California to have a vibrant cultural scene — it’s been here for decades.”
But a decades-old practice is also here: Book bans. According to a report by Pen America, over 40% of all book bans in the 2022–23 school year occurred in Florida school districts. A challenge to the 2020 presidential inauguration poem happened in Dade earlier this year.
“Anything that is censorship poses a threat in a certain way,” Tallamn said. “But I’m hoping that we’re going to be able to overcome this this time.”
Otazo said that the fact the book fair exists is in itself a rejection of defeat.
“The literary community and the wider community in South Florida, specifically, are not just going to allow this to happen,” said Otazo. “We’re going to champion these books…”
Emily Martinez, who got author signatures at the fair in the fantasy and romance books she enjoys, said events like this are also great for young readers.
“I think younger generations are getting more into books and reading,” Martinez said, “Through TikTok and BookTok, and stuff like that.”
(BookTok is an online community of readers who share book reviews and reading habits on the social media app TikTok).
Judy Rosenblum, an English and biology teacher of 37 years for Dade County Public Schools, has been attending the fair for nearly 40 years.
“Each year it is equal or better than it was the year before,” she said. Rosenblum has seen President Obama and Al Gore at the fair in previous years. This time she saw actor Henry Winkler.
Rosenblum said that Winkler got up and performed at his panel.
“It was like we were in Las Vegas watching a show,” she said.
“I just I’m so fascinated by Miami,” Tallman, who is originally from Michigan, said. “Miami is endless content for me and it’s a perfect place for a writer to live because there’s never a dull moment.”
Sophia Bolivar filmed the footage for the video.