November 25, 2011

Miami Moments (2011 Book Fair Int'l)

Home. After a 17-hour drive from Florida to DC, which was broken up via an overnight with a friend's mother, a chips & salsa-fest at South of the Border during which I workshopped a friend's latest poetry manuscript, and listening to the memoirs of Roger Ebert as an audiobook read by George Herrmann (Grandpa Gilmore) that includes all you never needed to know about Ebert's sexual awakening. After the 1 AM Wednesday morning arrival when I hauled my suitcase out of the car, fell asleep for four hours, woke to take my shoes off, slept another five hours. After the shopping/cooking spree to prepare for Thanksgiving at my grandmother's house. Now I'm enjoying my post-turkey coma in my satin robe. Home.

Miami Book Fair International was all I could have dreamed of--and that's coming from a girl who has done every conceivable variety of reading, fest, and conference in these past few years. The atmosphere was energized without being frantic. The caliber of presenters was SO high. (I met Susan Orlean! And Chuck Palahniuk! And we actually talked like real people!) I signed books. I did a couple interviews. Here are some glimpses, some memories. They are not comprehensive. But they're all mine. 

I stayed at "Spa Ortega," my friends' house in Coral Gables. They are a family artists and the whole place has an overgrown beauty. I sat on this balcony outside my bedroom each day to eat a quiet lunch before plunging into the Fair maelstrom. 

My first event was Friday's Literary Death Match at Bardot. Here I am as host Todd Zuniga introduces me to my opponent: Jennifer Hayden, author/illustrator of Underwire. Jennifer rocks--great sense of humor--and Todd is a fellow relentless traveler with invaluable energy. 
(Photo credit Neil de la Flor) 

There are wonderful play-by-plays of the action up at the LDM website, the Knight Arts blog, and New Times Miami, so I won't belabor the point beyond saying three things... 

One: I was giddy to share a stage with T.M. Shine. I have been a fan since reading his essays in the Washington Post Magazine, where we were brought in by the editor (the legendary Tom Shroder or, as Gene Weingarten calls him, Tom the Butcher).

Two: The judges were excellent. Their job isn't an easy; it's delicate to come up with instant critiques--across the categories of "literary merit," "performance," and "intangibles"--that entertain the crowd, hold a smidgen of truth, and don't sacrifice the author. You can only see the tip of Justin Torres's (very expressive) fingers in this shot. The other judges are Jeff Newelt (left), and Dean Haspiel (right, dreaming of puppies). 

Three: If I'd made it to the Spelling Bee round, I'd have kicked Mat Johnson's ass. He gave the most electrifying reading of the night. But the man can't spell for beans.
(Photo credit x 4 Todd Zuniga)

On Saturday four blocks of NE Second Avenue filled with families out to enjoy the readings, the sunshine, numerous open-air events for kids, the sheer spectacle. I kept pinching myself, thinking, "This is taking place in November? Really?"

I was bummed that my own signing kept me from the Rock Bottom Remainders, so I made up for it by catching Chuck Palahniuk. What you see here did, in fact, feel more like a 9:30 Club show than a reading. A woman in a deviled-egg costume threw inflatable brains at the audience. CP read a story that first appeared in Playboy. And then a second story, the infamous "Guts," that caused not one but -two- people to pass out in the audience. (Not staged; I was sitting by them.) 

Later that night, I got to talk with CP at the Author's Party. He admitted he dreads being on display for hours in front of an audience, and I realized the histrionics--from the inflatables to candy bars to dancing eggs--is a buffer for a man who is genuinely overwhelmed by crowds, but at this point in his career cannot avoid them. He is sweet and frighteningly talented. The party at Cafeina was fun once you abandoned the front room for the outdoor patio. I was thrilled to reunite with Tom Franklin, Beth Ann Fennelly, and Tayari Jones, and to talk more with Todd and Jennifer. We were in Wynwood, so like all the venues in that neighborhood there was art on display. At one point we feared a bucket o' gilded Kentucky Fried Chicken had gone missing via some drunk writer, but it turns out the owner just had the good sense to hide it. 

Some of us went around the corner to a late-night opening, complete with band and communal graffiti flats. And dancing! Dancing was a highlight. The DJ, Otto Von Schirach, is the fiance of Monica Lopez de Victoria, one-half of the TM Sisters, and a mini LegalArt reunion with Monica, Tasha, Jiae and Juan ensued. And later on...this. This is what happens when you run around with the comics & graphic artist crew. 
(Photo credit Jeff Newelt, which was his smart way of staying out of the picture)

Best craft services table ever. Look at those melons! Not to mention the red velvet cake. 

Sunday I was honored to share "The Poet's Voice" stage with Denise Duhamel (introducing), Michael Hettich (who I'd met when I read at Books & Books last year), Pablo Medina (I'm awed by his Neruda scholarship) and the incomparable Beth Ann, my Oxford guardian/host/goddess/inspiration/fellow Nortoneer/favorite. 
(Photo credit Neil de la Flor)

So glad I stuck around to catch Ravi Shankar, a Connecticut friend who I only get to see when we cross paths at conferences & such. One poem, "Oyster," he revealed is dedicated to me in his new book! I'd seen an earlier version in a chapbook and loved it. 

The one reading I was 100% determined to make this weekend was Neil de la Flor and Maureen Seaton sharing from their collaborative book, Sinéad O'Connor and Her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds. (So glad to finally meet and hear Emma Trelles, too.) Though I know from having bumped into them shortly beforehand that their prep time was minimal, you'd have never known it from the reading: funny, smart, unexpectedly poignant. 

Comic book break! I slipped away from "The Poet's Voice" to see some of my new LDM friends in a panel on Harvey Pekar's work and legacy. The rockstar panel consisted of Dean, Joyce Brabner (Pekar's widow), Joseph Remnant, and Jeff. A lot of substantive things discussed, including future publications and the Pekar Project, and some fun trivia too: the origin of American Splendor, Leonardo DiCaprio's onetime hope to play Robert Crumb and a (thankfully) failed attempt to recruit Pekar to write the script for Howard the Duck. 

(Photo credit Neil de la Flor)

I rejoined the poets and we escaped downtown, heading to Soyka for dinner. I had ceviche while others had Matzoh ball soup. That's Miami for you. I sat next to Maureen; we've tried to cross paths in Florida before, always failing, so this was our first chance in years to actually catch up. She was the first teacher I workshopped with after finishing my MFA when I went to the 2005 Indiana Writer's Conference on the Vesle Fenstermaker Scholarship. Time has flown! She said she was proud of me.

Later a few of the hardiest souls drove to Key Biscayne, where we pulled off to look black at the glittering downtown we'd called home for three days. We passed around the flask of scotch. How I have missed this city, its people, my sense of self when held within its arms. In this moment, standing on the shore, I knew: I will be back again and again. 

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