MIAMI BOOK FAIR’S WILIEST WOMEN WORDSLINGERS.
Blame Sally Ride. Ever since the fatefully-named dame became the first female ever to soar into space, women started insisting en masse that they could do whatever they wished. Thirty years on, they have. Done as they wished, that is. Not to mention as they wanted. At whim, and at will. Whenever they damn well pleased.
Case in point: Miami Book Fair International. Now celebrating its 30th Anniversary, the nation’s largest gathering of bibliophiles is not only fielded by a gaggle of the keenest chicks in town, but it brings to home plate some of the wiliest women wordslingers ever to pick up the wood.
To even begin to cite three decades of highlights would be an exercise in frustration, as well as futility; worse it risks the kinda omission which can result in a serious case of black and blue. Much better to bear in mind that Book Fair began (and remains) true to the city it calls home; a city founded by a woman, and graced with a polyglot purity that never needed any stinkin’ multi-cultural mandate. In other words, Book Fair booked chicks because chicks were the most bookable authors out there, and if said chicks just so happened to represent all the colors of the universe, well, yay for that.
Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Three in the ‘60s, two in the ‘70s, Alison Lurie in ‘85 (Foreign Affairs), Toni Morrison in ‘88 (Beloved), then, after nominations in ‘83 (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant) and ‘88 (The Accidental Tourist). The pace picked up further in the ‘90s & ‘00’s (four each), though thus far the twenty-teens have produced but one (Karen Russell’s remarkable Swamplandia! was one of three novels nominated in 2012)
For 2013 that mix is even more pronounced, be it in the Haitian diasporic darling Edwidge Danticat or the Antiquan awesomeness of Jamaica Kincaid, who both became default components for multi-cultural women’s studies programs in an era when multi-cultural women’s studies programs were all the rage. And while the rush to judgmentalness undoubtedly paid off, in attention and in sales, the mandate muddied the fact that these were (and are) simply two of the most remarkable writers of any gender or ethnicity.
Kincaid (who’s still subject to guilt-ridden curriculum) will be at Book Fair on behalf of her novel See Now Then (Farrar Straus & Giroux $24), which the New York Times’ Dwight Garner claims comes awfully close to the life lived by the author who wrote the story.
“Jamaica Kincaid[‘s] first novel in 10 years [is] about an ugly divorce in which the main characters bear a striking resemblance to Ms. Kincaid and to her former husband, Allen Shawn. Ms. Kincaid has denied that the book is strongly autobiographical, but then what was she going to say?”
Ms. Kincaid’s novel is set in Vermont, the Vermont of the cartoonist Ed Koren, at any rate, where people are fuzzy and semi-adorable and drive old Saabs; their sweaters smell faintly of peat and wood smoke. NPR simmers in the background like fish stock.
In real life Mr. Shawn left Ms. Kincaid for a younger woman, a musician. In “See Now Then” a man named Mr. Sweet leaves his wife, Mrs. Sweet, for a younger woman, a musician.
The Shawn in question is the composer son of late New Yorker editor William, who unlikely never suspected that the four decades he spent carrying out his pornographic predilections with Lillian Ross would end up being the basis of a blow-by-blow memoir entitled Here But Not Here (1998). Whether or not Allen suspects that he too has become fodder for an ex is anyone’s guess. Garner though is convinced he has become just that.
Danticat, on the other hand, who’ll be at Book Fair speaking with Alfred A Knopf editor Robin Desser, brings forth a novel which is plays on the allegory that’s become her legacy. The work, Claire of the Sea Light (Knopf $25.95), has all the hallmarks of a bedtime story a parent reads to the child at the heart of their spouse.
Caribbean queens aren’t the only regal beings scheduled to alight at MBFI 30. Also included among the stately strains is Anjelica Huston (hyping her memoir A Story Lately Told), whose Hollywood royalty bona fides remain in grand stead, and Diane Ladd (on behalf of her story collection A Bad Afternoon for a Piece of Cake Inkwell $19.50), who still has a little black in her Southern-fried blue blood. Huston of course is the daughter of director John Huston and granddaughter actor Walter Huston; Ladd’s the ex-wife of actor Bruce Dern and mother of Laura Dern. And while all three generations of Hustons have won Oscars, Ladd has been nominated twice, the second time coincident with daughter Laura (for Rambling Rose), the first time in the Academy’s history, and all three of Ladd’s clan received simultaneous stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. So there.
The ever stately (and increasingly powerful) Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be taking a brief break from repping District 23 and heading the Democratic National Committee in order to make her case For the Next Generation (St. Martin’s $25.99), and proto-feminist Erica Jong will be swooping in to prove that even after 40 years she refuses to be grounded by a Fear of Flying (Henry Holt $35).
At first glance it might seem that the Sunshine State Rep and the author who paved the way for Mommy Porn would have nothing in common besides their Jewish roots; a second take would reveal that both were early risers to their respective thrones, and unequivocal advocates of a woman’s right to do as she damn well chooses.
Add former Miami Herald crime scribe Edna Buchanan (A Dark and Loney Place ), noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism) and maverick Miami native Karen Russell (Vampires in the Lemon Grove), author of 2012s Pulitzer-nominated Swamplandia!, plus about another hundred or so others, of various stripes, and you’ll get some idea of how wowful MBFI 30 will be — and how much of that wowfulness is owed to the work of the world’s wily women wordslingers.