An intrinsic look and an opinionated view of the Miami Book Fair International, and the perceived notion that African-Americans are not adequately served.
Miami Book Fair International (MBFI) is the largest and oldest book fair of its kind anywhere in the world, and should be representative of all that exemplifies fair treatment and the employment of equal opportunity to all as it pertain to all things literary. Albeit, all is not well in paradise as it pertain to balancing scales and affording all aspects of authorship to be represented. Are the powers that be doing enough to embrace and extend gestures outside of normal comfort zones for people of color to be part of any multi-cultural thrust, even?
My brothers and sisters that live elsewhere are particularly concerned that this book fair seems to shun those that have written for years and want to be booked here. What can be done sincerely to attract more of them? We write across proverbial lines, and create imagery where dramatic interlude is not compromised just to be inclusive. We have clout and want our readers to know that we have made it and the playing field is at least level enough for equal footing.
This prestigious event is hailed and promoted as an international literary happening with clout and panache. Millions are spent to make it a spectacular showing among the literati. And if you happen to have a big enough name, and you’re considered ‘literary’…well, you get a chance to be invited back again and again. I say this, alluding to the fact that many authors of other persuasions have made it okay for squatters rights to be status quo. Indisputably however, Miami is also recognized as a Mecca of/for Latin culture and Caribbean ambiance. As such, African-American authors, publishers and avid readers many not readily identify The Miami Book Fair as one that aspires to embrace and encourage their participation because of perceived deference to all of the previously mentioned cultures.
Alleviating this perception requires a conscious effort on the part of organizers, and in my opinion may have ulterior reasons why this may not be something that can be fixed anytime soon. They are too busy catering to their own constituents, and as long as the money is flowing, why change? Ample reasons and many more instances of indifference can be given from one end of the spectrum to the other. This can be done inclusively and successfully, just as the Miami Heat, MTV Awards, University of Miami, Port of Miami and other venues beyond South Beach have demonstrated exclusionary methods at the expense of Black participation.
As an avid volunteer for many years, please accept my personal recommendations for Miami-Dade College and MBFI volunteers within the African-American literary Diaspora who are toil passionately because we love books. Recognizably, we are a diverse people with diverse preferences and would like to see more images that look just like us. I ask myself what can be done to stem the tide and make things much reasonably equal. Below, I give you but a few of my opinionated views:
· Actively recruit and add African-American (AA) members to the Board who have a pulse on the status of AA literature. These should represent at a minimum, local and national perspectives.
· Seek meaningful and timely interview opportunities coordinated by MBFI and/or MDC’s Media Relations Coordinator (Beverly Counts-Rodriguez) for AA authors from out of town who may need exposure to spur attendance options.
· Explore the option of more mainstream genres that AA’s are prone to have interest in, and those genres that AA authors are writing in, i.e., Mystery/Suspense; Romance; Chick Lit, et al. Just to name a few
· Invite more self-published authors. Statistics support the notion and truth that more self-published and POD activity is on the upswing and cannot be ignored! And guess what, AA authors make up more than two thirds of the percentages!!
· MBFI needs to do a better job of advertising in the Black community to initiate and invigorate active attendance and better representation. If more prominent Black authors are invited or is already on the roster then more people would avail themselves to the book fair.
· Invite authors who appear on various and prominent bestseller lists catering to AA interests and other comparable barometers of popular AA literature. This is in addition to those appearing on the New York Times Bestsellers list, as this will appeal to a larger sector.
· Provide participants the option of identifying their works as by an AA author. This should not be compulsory, however, just as some booth titles immediately identify them as religious, atheist, for children, Spanish-speaking etc., the same should apply to this target audience.
· Portray more AA’s when advertising in print and electronic media as this will actively generate a positive perception that people of color in general, and AA’s in particular are welcomed.
· Include more AA’s in MBFI’s interviews and photo coverage during the event. Too much inferences and attention is given to those authors that are ‘literary’ in scope in lieu of those with lesser status and notoriety.
· Send promotional information to AA booksellers in Florida and other hot spots, as recommended by knowledgeable board members with the persuasion to add knowledge for a viable selection process.
· Actively seek local authors through public service announcements on AA radio stations, print media and television advertising and marketing forays.
· Last, certainly not least of all – Volunteers should be afforded the same courtesy as other guests relative to being given privileges suggesting that their service is appreciated. Rarely are we invited to any of the adjunct activities (especially the get-together or party given at the hospitality hotel), and never have we been acknowledged with any type of congratulatory or appreciative gesture for the hard work and dedicated service(s) rendered. Join the Friends of the Book Fair you say? Volunteers that have given time and effort year after year should at least be given a default or de facto honorary gesture gratis and with a smile!
I feel wholeheartedly that Miami’s reputation on a national scale exemplifying clout and a sense of belonging is lacking. We are at the end of the logistical chain geographically…. and many feel that they would get a better and fairer shake at other book fairs, albeit many venues are much smaller but seem to have warmer countenances. I have also talked about forming some other type of venue if and when authors are visiting South Florida, that we could do a better and credible job of making them really feel that we too, can be a panacea for literary fortitude. But this is a subject for another venue, I know. I have no qualms about sharing this correspondence with whom it may concern, and the wheels continue to turn as I implore and cajole for change. The Miami Book Fair International is still the preeminent book gathering in all the land. If you make it here, hug your agent…alas, if you are a person of color, pray diligently and hope for the best! I remain vociferous and vigilant in my quest to challenge an institution.