Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Miami Book Fair International

Several weekends ago, I participated in the Miami Book Fair International. In its 22nd year, this prestigious literary event happened despite expected cancellation in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma. I flew into the Miami International and stayed at the Biscayne Bay Marriot.
My friend Gepsie Metellus, executive director of the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center picked me up from the airport and took me to a restaurant called Tap Tap. I treated Gepsie to a mojito, and she brought me up to date on Haitian politics. It seems like folks are disheartened by the devolution of Aristide after investing so much hope that his election would signal the beginning of the end of the corruption and violence. I always learns so much from Gepsie, and her passionate dedication to the advancement of her community never cease to impress and inspire me. Because of leaders like her, I keep the faith that the Haitian people will one day see considerable, positive change in their beloved homeland.
The following day -- a Sunday -- I do an afternoon reading and signing at the fair which took place on the campus of Miami-Dade Community College. A kind engineering student named Mario drives me to the campus, and we talk about our latest discovery of audiobooks. For many reasons, I will never give up books in print, but gadget queen and tech diva that I am, I am now a member of Audible.com.
At the fair's location, the organizers set up a wonderful hospitality suite for the authors in the library. There I was thrilled to reconnect with mystery author extraordinaire Carolina Aguilera-Garcia of the Lupe Solano detective series. Carolina and I met last spring during La Voz Latina, an event showcasing Latino authors in Arkansas (yes, Latinos in Arkansas.) She's as warm and funny one-on-one as she is before I crowd.
Remembering what a joy it was to hear her speak in Arkansas, I made a point to see Carolina in action after my own panel. She was scheduled to appear with Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, best-selling author of Dirty Girls Social Club and Playing with Boys. Unfortunately, Alisa did not make the fair, and so I missed my chance to thank her in person for the amazing endorsement she gave in support of my debut chica lit novel Divas Don't Yield. It's all I can do to not jumpt the gun and post the quote in its entirety here. That's how amazing it is, and even though it's been a few weeks since I received the fantastic news from my editor at Random House, I'm stil shocked and humbled.
Still Carolina wowed the crowd with her funny anecdotes and affable personality. Her trio of lovely and accomplished daughters Sara, Antonia and Gabriella were in the crowd, and one fair attendee asked, "What was it like to have a private eye for a mom?" Yes, Carolina was a licensed P.I. for over ten years -- talk about writing what you know!
Her daughter's reply: "We didn't get away with anything!"
As for my own panel, I finally had the opportunity to meet Angie Cruz, trailblazing author of Soledad and Let It Rain Coffee. We have some friends in common, and it was wonderful to learn that Angie's without a doubt the sweetheart everyone says she is.
Having been born and raised in the United States when I did, I grew up being more aware of my Puerto Rican culture than my Dominican heritage within an American context. Still I am my mother's daughter, and her influences did not elude me. I only needed someone or some thing to mirror them to me. But the work of older, celebrated Dominican novelists did not resonate with me until Angie Cruz and Angie Cruz and Nelly Rosario pen to paper. I suspect it's a combination of generation, class and geography (with a dash of gender although I ain't mad at Junot Diaz), but until I read Soledad and Song of the Water Saints, I didn't relate to the Dominican heroines of other novels. I did not see myself in them. I was a different kind of Dominicana.
But reading Angie and Nelly's novels were more than just enjoyable way to past the time or learn from the example of other autora's good writing. They were an integral part of my ongoing discovery of what facets of my upbringing and identity -- from the foods I love to the dichos I often repeated -- that were gifted to me from the island of Quisqueya with my mother as the bearer. By writing these stories, these hermanas revealed to me pieces of myself and even my mother, nuggets of gold just waiting to be sifted from the sands of my Americaness. It's blessing that I wish all lovers of the written word could experience. Everyone regardless of race, ethnicity or culture should have at least one author or book that introduces them to an aspect of their heritage that had always been there but suppressed for whatever reasons.
I also discovered a new author named Jill Ciment. She was on the panel with Angie me, and she
read from her latest novel The Tattoo Artist. I'm not easily intrigued (hell, I don't know if I would picked up my own novels if someone else had written them), but The Tattoo Artist has shot up on my to-read list. It's the story of young Jewish from the Lower East Side who falls for a revolutionary during the late 20s. The concept captured my attention as well as Jill's beautiful writing so into the Amazon cart it went.
Carolina adopted me for several hours, taking time after the fair to bring me to her cozy home and giving me a tour of South Beach. I could not have asked for a more interesting guide as we dipped from popular strips to interesting side streets. And Carolina gave me some great advice about the publishing industry, too.
So in just two days I made new friends, received mentoring and went on a private tour of one this country's most interesting cities. That and more in just two days. Thank you, Miami Book Fair International!