Just about every sort of literature was honored on Friday at the Miami Book Fair International, some of it highbrow and some of it — well, not exactly lowbrow, but let’s just say some drinking, hooting and Hialeah jokes may have been involved at the irreverent Literary Death Match.
Supported by the Knight Foundation, the National Book Award panel — the first of its kind, happening just two days after the awards were announced — finished off this year’s “Evenings With…” events at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus.
Two nights ago, host and author Daniel Handler caused a stir at the National Book Awards with a racial joke (he later apologized), but that unfortunate incident was set aside for the evening, which aimed to celebrate all that’s special about literature.
The gathering was “a dream team of American letters,” said Dennis Scholl, the Knight Foundation’s vice president for arts, who introduced the program.
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Harold Augenbaum, executive director of the National Book Foundation, played host, introducing the authors: authors of young adult fiction Eliot Schrefer (Threatened) and Deborah Wiles (Revolution); poets Maureen McLane (This Blue) and Fanny Howe (Second Childhood); nonfiction authors Roz Chast (Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?); Anand Gopal (No Good Men Among the Living); and Evan Osnos (Age of Ambition, which won the award); and fiction writers Rabih Alameddine (An Unnecessary Woman); Emily St. John Mandel (Station Eleven); and Phil Klay (Redeployment, the fiction winner).
Each read a passage of his or her work.
“Thank you for staying to the end,” said St. John Mandel, who was the last to read. “It’s a long program.”
If you missed the panel, here’s the good news: Each of the winners and finalists will appear Saturday at some point at the fair (check the schedules at www.miamibookfair.com for more information).
Over at the Swamp, swirling wind and brief bouts of rain did not deter an audience from the Literary Death Match, at which writers compete against each other in seven-minute readings. Judges Ariel Schrag (author of the novel Adam), Billy Corben (co-founder of rakontur) and Ben Katchor (who draws the comic strip Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer) listened intently to each contender’s story (or maybe not) and in the end named Hialeah homegirl Jennine Capo Crucet, author of How to Leave Hialeah, the winner.
If, as Scholl said, the arts can bind a community, then Friday night in all its prestigious and raucous glory, seems like pretty solid cement.