Miami Book Fair, the 305’s premier literary event, brought a litany of cultural figures and icons for their “Evenings With” panels. From legends of stage and screen like Harvey Fierstein and Billy Porter to culture shaping musicians like Patti Smith and Fat Joe, the week-long fair also featured an outdoor book fair, live music, and a rooftop garden party with DJs spinning vinyls over signature cocktails.
While the in-person fair took over the Miami Dade College Wolfson campus for another big year, it’s virtual offerings including talks with Alan Moore and Thurston Moore were available to stream online, with some talks recorded available here.
Day 1: Juanes & John Waters
The Miami Book Fair officially opened with singer Juanes getting up close and personal about his new memoir “Biografia” along with his memoir writer Diego Londoño. The “Evenings With” offerings began with filmmaker John Waters in conversation with Paul W. Morris, Executive Director of the House of Speakeasy. The auteur’s singular, filthy vision is channeled through his latest fiction novel “Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance.” At 76 years of age, the force behind “Hairspray” and “Pink Flamingos” credits his ability to create subversive work that pushes the envelope of cultural acceptability by always letting “the right people win” in his pieces. Even with his playing into social taboo, the writer never punches down in the way of a shock jock, but as someone with a genuine voice.
Day 2: Harvey Fierstein
The Wednesday offerings for the fair saw multi-hyphenate star of stage and screen Harvey Fierstein’s writings about his storied life and career in “I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir.” In conversation with Peter Gethers, the editor of the memoir, the pair discussed Fierstein’s experience as an LGBT activist. Living through the AIDS crisis in a time when the United States government refused to even acknowledge the epidemic robbing the world of a whole generation of queer people, Fierstein’s career spans decades along with screen work in films like “Mulan” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Having written plays like “Torch Song Trilogy,” Fierstein not only dishes on his experiences in Broadway and Hollywood, but the stories of loved ones who have passed on important messages in his new memoir.
Day 3: Patti Smith
Friday’s “Evenings With” featured legendary poet, musician, artist Patti Smith speaking on her latest collection “A Book of Days.” As a photo archive of both analog captures and Instagram documentation, the singer merges her storied life of living in the East Village around artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and husband Fred “Sonic” Smith, to her current life, performing live on a less frequent basis. Smith interspersed the slideshow of images with a Q&A session, opting to answer pre-written questions about the singer’s life. Some of the more unexpected imagery in Smith’s slideshow featured unsung heroes like Alice Augustua Ball, who developed the cure for leprosy in graduate school. When Ball died at a young age during her research, Arthur Dean, Ball’s graduate study advisor took credit for her life-saving discovery. While she passed away in 1916, Ball would not be recognized for her study until 2000. Joined by her long-time guitarist Lenny Kaye, the singer concluded the show with an acoustic set of tracks that feel more prescient to Smith’s empowering social commentary. “Grateful” from her 2000 album “Gung Ho” is a down-tempo track dedicated to Grateful Dead singer Jerry Garcia. Originally written for the Native American tribe off her classic record “Easter,” Smith performed the folk tune “Ghost Dance” with Kaye who co-wrote the track in support of the people fighting in Iran for equal rights. Smith’s ethos of empowerment came to a head as she encouraged the Book Fair audience to rise from their seats, stand up and join in the protest anthem “People Have the Power.”
Day 4: Thurston Moore, Fat Joe
While author Ignacio Julia was unable to speak in person, contributors to the new book “Linger On: The Velvet Underground” Thurston Moore of the band Sonic Youth, photographer James Hamilton and author Michael Imperioli spoke in the afternoon reading excerpts from the book and discussing the trio’s history with the storied Warhol Superstar rock outfit.
The Saturday “Evenings With” closed out with hip-hop legend Fat Joe being interviewed by DJ Khaled in support of his new memoir “The Book of Jose.” While many of the Book Fair offerings featured sound balancing out live music, DJs and a myriad of speakers, Khaled spent a significant amount of time confused at the fact that he was not DJ’ing at LIV Nightclub, but in fact, speaking at a Book Fair and asking for his microphone to be louder until he was given a wireless microphone with a louder level. Although Khaled has penned his own memoir, “The Keys: A Memoir,” he admitted to not having read Fat Joe’s own book, but having collaborated with the Bronx rapper since both were in their youth, considered himself an authority. In the talk, Fat Joe discussed his upbringing on the mean streets of New York City as a child. Having grown up in the South Bronx, the rapper spoke of being forced to adhere to ways of a rough social class to survive.
Day 5: Billy Porter
With a bit of rain washing away some of the outdoor offerings, the Sunday fair featured a talk with “Pose” star Billy Porter in conversation with former “The View” host Ana Navarro. While Navarro has campaigned for Republican candidates during the John McCain run, the outspoken TV host has been given credence by Porter for calling out former President Trump, even as a fellow Republican. In support of his memoir “Unprotected,” the star strips away the veneer of his work on stage and screen to detail his upbringing with a chronically ill mother, sexual assault, and eventual HIV positive diagnosis. Porter’s story of success in theatre in “Kinky Boots” and a slew of TV credits is nothing short of astounding, coming from a floundering career as an R&B singer being threatened to be outed as a homosexual in the early 2000s.