Miami’s literary scene may be less prominent than that of other big cities, but it’s gaining heat. It’s hard to believe that a city associated with oily bronze bodies, million-dollar yachts and a sleepless club scene would have any place for bookworms and writers. After all, writers crave quiet and a free Internet connection; Miami gives us nightclubs that leave our ears ringing and a $10-a-day charge for T-Mobile WiFi. But unlike the literary scenes in similar multi-cultural metropolitan cities where you can drop into countless cafés, grab a mike and no one will find it odd, Miami’s scene is small and highly concentrated in key spots. You just have to know where to look.
Stop into BOOKS & BOOKS (265 Aragon Ave.) in Coral Gables and you’ll be surprised at the number of people who’ll pack a 9,000-square-foot store to hear the likes of Junot Díaz and Edwidge Danticat read from their latest works. The 25-year-old store is independently owned and housed in a 1927 Mediterranean-style building that wraps around an open-air central courtyard where there’s a newsstand and a small café. Host to an event every night of the week, from film screenings to book clubs in English, Spanish and Portuguese, it’s often the first place writers go when they want to read in Miami. Author readings have included everyone from Isabel Allende and T.C. Boyle to debut novelist Steven Hall and Florida International University MFA students. Books are piled from floor to ceiling on dark wooden shelves, and the tables by the café are perfect for an afternoon writing session. “I like to hang out there either to read or just to have a cup of coffee, or to write in my notebooks,” says M. Evelina Galang, author of One Tribe and Assistant Professor at the University of Miami’s MFA program. “I like the idea of being surrounded by all those books, and if I need the solitude I can still get it in that very public space.”
For those looking for a chance at the mike, there’s THE WALLFLOWER GALLERY (10 NE 3rd St.), a tiny, hole-in-the-wall facility in the heart of downtown Miami. It’s about as low-key as the city gets, with a giant purple flower painted on its front door, a small sign and a long wooden staircase as soon as you step through. This is where struggling, unknown artists find an outlet, on a stage that’s the size of a small bedroom and that has a lone mike and psychedelic patterns projected onto the background. Think mismatched couches and oriental pillows, tie-dyed shirts and Indian fabrics strewn across the walls. The gallery has been host to concerts, independent film nights and belly dancing shows, and local painters and photographers display their work. Poetry nights and spoken-word nights are on the third Fridays and last Thursdays of the month, respectively. And most nights the MC will be none other than owner C.D. Flash, who sits by the entrance wearing dark glasses and calls himself TheFunkFinder; he finds the artists, writers, musicians, dancers and activists who congregate at The Wallflower.
Small as the Miami literary scene is, there’s plenty of room for its growth, and the enthusiasm to back it. When THE BOOKSTORE IN THE GROVE (2911 Grand Ave.) opened last November, The Miami Herald pronounced it the only general-interest bookstore within the Miami city limits since the Borders two blocks down closed a couple of years back. The store is on the corner of the Mayfair shopping center in Coconut Grove, an open-air area known for its restaurants, shops and art festivals, and it still carries some remnants of its previous incarnation as a Banana Republic. If you look closely, you’ll recognize the wooden floors and the shelves where they used to display leather shoes and boots; now they’re packed with magazines and books. But the feel of the space is completely different—sitting in the café in the back corner of the store feels like being in a living room. People say hello Miami-style, with air kisses on the cheeks; reading groups sit on the couches and taste wine and cheese; and writers bring their laptops in for the free Internet access.
If you absolutely must get a taste of South Beach but still want to stay literary, NEWS CAFE (800 Ocean Dr.) is the best place to be surrounded by Art Deco buildings, neon lights and international magazines all at once. The café is open 24 hours for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a choice to sit outdoors to take in the ocean breeze or inside by the full bar. It’s a great spot to people watch, because all sorts of characters come through—inebriated clubbers, obsessive dog owners, or, on the night that I was there, dancers—on stilts!—promoting going green. Browse through the titles in the news store and you’ll find everything from French Playboy to a Sunday edition of The Irish Times. And if you’re looking to be inspired by nature, the ocean is just across the street. But when it comes time to put words on paper, most Miami writers venture back into the walls of their own homes. “Home is where my books are, where my pens are,” says John Dufresne, author of Deep in the Shade of Paradise. But it doesn’t hurt if home has an ocean view with swaying palm trees in the distance.
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