3 Questions For is an ongoing series of quick sketch interviews with notable personalities who are participating in the cultural and academic life of Miami Dade College.
Lissette Mendez is Director of Programs for Miami Book Fair at Miami Dade College, the nation’s oldest and largest literary gathering, attracting over 600+ authors from around the world and 250,000 people for the annual 8-day lit extravaganza. She envisions, creates, develops and implements literary programs year round for MBF. Mendez shares organizing duties with the Fair’s Director of Operations, Delia Lopez who has the formidable task of overseeing all the physical aspects of the event from venues, vendors and security to visitor parking and wifi.
Gabriel Riera: The Miami Book Fair is spotlighting Caribbean literature with a more focused approach this year. Tell me about the new ReadCaribbean program.
Lissette Mendez: Miami Book Fair has always featured authors from the Caribbean in readings and panels exploring various issues of interest to folks with roots in the region. This year, with the support of the Knight Foundation and the Green Family Foundation we’ve thoughtfully put together a program that highlights the region in many ways. I am very grateful for the collaboration of programming partners whose expertise exceeds my own — for example, Jan Mapou, of Libreri Mapou, a Creole and French language bookstore; Jerry Delince of Delince Editions a publisher in Haiti and Miami, and representatives from the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad and ReadJamaica, an association of authors and publishers.
“We want the people of South Florida to see themselves represented at the Fair.”
There are about 100 authors who represent the Caribbean in English, French, Creole and Spanish at this year’s Fair. Some are on panels to discuss aspects unique to different Caribbean countries, others will read from their novels or poems. We are also presenting children’s authors and music acts from the region. We want the people of South Florida to see themselves represented at the Fair — many living here count the Caribbean as their community of heritage. We also want folks not from the region to discover it through the literature. The French and Creole panels will be simultaneously translated.
GR: What changes have you seen over the years? When you look at the early editions of MBF and look at it now, how has it evolved?
LM: It’s evolved in so many ways! I think the best thing about our team and the teams that have been making Book Fair happen for 34 years is the passion love and dedication that lead us all to continue asking ourselves, what worked? What didn’t? What is happening in the culture and in our city, what’s going on in our country, or internationally and how do we address that — how do we change along with the changing times while still remaining true to our mission?
I think what I’m most proud of is that the core values that were present at the founding of the Fair are still our core values. MDC President Eduardo Padron and Book Fair Co-Founder and Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan along with all the others who were part of it from the beginning, felt strongly that the Fair should be committed to fostering a sense of inclusion and accessibility. The aim was to create a platform, a space where everyone in the community and the many visitors from around the country and abroad could feel comfortable engaging in dialogue with authors and thinkers who have devoted so much time and energy to their literary subjects.
I am humbled being part of the team that creates this amazing opportunity for people to find themselves in stories and to find new stories they can be part of.
It’s magic. I’ve always thought that, even when I just a kid visiting the Fair.
GR: Why do you think the Book Fair continues to draw such massive crowds?
LM: Since the beginning of time, we humans have tried to make sense of our place in the world. I think that search for meaning is a key factor driving people to read, go to films and listen to music – it’s where you can encounter these stories, our stories. And so there is a quality of timeless endeavor when you participate in the Fair — it’s a little bit of reassurance on a subconscious level that we are not alone, we are all alike, even in our differences. It’s also reassuring to be amongst a tribe that really puts emphasis on celebrating that human connection
On a practical level, it’s a great outing! It’s nice outside, there are tons of books for sale, and there’s good food and music and lots and lots of fun for kids and there’s something for for everyone! You like cooking? There’s Kitchen Stadium. Kids? Children’s Alley. Teens? The YA authors program. Music? The Porch. I could go on, but really, I invite everyone to just come downtown to Wolfson Campus and experience it all. It’s magic. I’ve always thought that, even when I just a kid visiting the Fair.
The Miami Book Fair presents its 33rd edition from Nov. 13 – 20.
Opening Events & More
On Sunday, Nov. 13 the Fair opens with presentations by various well-known personalities such as children’s book author Eoin Colfer, renowned journalist and author Jorge Ramos and “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders will make an appearance on Nov. 19.
Guest featured in the Evenings With… series include actor Alan Cumming (Nov. 14), novelist Geraldine Brooks (Nov. 15), influential talk show host Tavis Smiley (Nov. 16), historians Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf (Nov. 17) and this year’s National Book Award Winners and Finalists (Nov. 18).
Other Notable Presenters:
- NYT’s Pamela Paul, By the Book, Live!
- The Property Brothers, Live!, Drew and Jonathan Scott
- A Morning with Actor and Conservationist, Jane Alexander
- Claude Monet the Water Lilies: A Conversation with Ross King and George Gibson
- Through Space and Time: A Nonfiction Reading, James Gleick and Ben Mezrich
- An Afternoon with Dave Barry
- Celebrating Si Lewin with Legendary Comics Artist Art Spiegelman and Abrams ComicArts Editorial Director Charles Kochman
- Good News: A Morning with Dana Perino
- The Science of the Mind, Dr. Peter D. Kramer and Luke Dittrich
- An Afternoon with Astrophysicist Janna Levin in Conversation with Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova
- The Hilfigers: A Father and Daughter Talk Life, Love and Success
- An Afternoon with Susan Faludi
- Colson Whitehead in Conversation with Leigh Haber
- Two Poets Laureate: A Reading and Conversation, Rita Dove and Robert Pinsky
Take to the Streets
The popular Street Fair will be held from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Nov. 18-20. Admission is free for MDC students, faculty and staff with a valid ID. Visitors ages 13-18 and over 62: $5. Children 12 and under: free.
Purchase your Street Fair tickets online for easy access to events and activities.
For a full line-up of author appearances and other events download the 2016 Fair Guide and the Weekend Author Grids.