Books

Book’s tales a snapshot of ever-changing Miami, city of extremes

15 Views of Miami. Editor Jaquira Diaz. Burrow Press. 138 pages. $16.99 in paper.
15 Views of Miami. Editor Jaquira Diaz. Burrow Press. 138 pages. $16.99 in paper.

The city that emerges from the stories in 15 Views of Miami is not the impossibly sunny, shiny place we see on television but the humid, crowded, less glamorous one we know (and love and sometimes hate) because we live here. It’s the city where you can hear the cry of a heron and the scream of traffic in the same breath. Where we still mourn the loss of Wolfie’s and Burdines and Zayre (OK, maybe not Zayre). Where people still identify themselves by where they were when Hurricane Andrew struck.

Miami, writes editor Jaquira Díaz, is “a strange city — never the same place for long. It’s always changing, evolving, reinventing itself.” That’s what 15 Views of Miami (Burrow Press, $16.99 in paper) aims to reflect: the shifting landscape of communities — Wynwood, Allapattah, Ojus, Coral Gables, Belle Meade, Little Haiti, Homestead, Hialeah — and the people who make those places home.

The stories examine connection and loss and are set in recognizable places — Shuckers Bar & Grill before its slide into the bay; Stiltsville; the Oleta River. One even takes place partly on I-95.

“The idea was to show real Miami and real people, not just detectives or movie producers or people shooting it out in the streets,” says Díaz, who appears with some of the book’s contributing writers Monday at Books & Books in Coral Gables. “We wanted real people to have stories that are alive because of the characters, not because of some Miami Vice plot.”

Díaz, who moved to Miami Beach at age 8 from Puerto Rico and writes movingly of the experience in the book’s introduction, left Miami 10 years ago but has moved back and finds herself intrigued by its changes.

“A kind of nostalgia made me want to write about it, the neighborhoods where I lived as a kid,” she says. “There are so many different neighborhoods. You can be in a beautiful neighborhood, and five blocks away, the neighborhood is in transition. There are all these different worlds in just one city.”

15 Views of Miami — Burrow’s third such collaboration, after 15 Views of Orlando and 15 Views of Tampa — opens with Ricardo Pau-Llosa’s Once, in which an ambitious but naive entrepreneur dreams of making Hialeah “the Rioja of Florida” with his homemade wine, Vino Once. It ends with John Dufresne’s Jamokes, in which another character determines that Vino Once tastes about as good as fermented swamp water. The stories are loosely linked by a character or an image or a theme according to each writer’s whim.

In M. Evelina Galang’s Imelda’s Lullaby, a caretaker baby-sits an irascible old woman to earn money to send home to the Philippines for her children, because her husband abandoned her and she needs money. Lynne Barrett’s Morning Glories picks up that thread of infidelity but weaves a different strand: Her character’s marriage has ended, too, but better resources allow her to respond differently and to enjoy the freedom that comes with second chances.

“There are a lot of grim situations in the book,” says Barrett, who teaches at Florida International University and is the author of the story collection Magpies. “I thought, ‘I’ll go in a different way.’ We live with people who live in grim situations, but that doesn’t mean all lives are like that.”

Jennine Capó Crucet infuses her story From the Desk of David J. Hernandez, Security Officer, Westland Mall with a sly and knowing humor. A Miami native who teaches at Florida State University and is author of the story collection How to Leave Hialeah, she says she tries to come “home” whenever she can.

“Miami feels like a place where nothing is too wild or out of the question narratively or plotwise,” she says. “It can feel like a place of extremes, in terms of opinions or even just the weather. That opens up a lot of possibilities for your imagination.”

M.J. Fievre, author of Sinkhole, about a natural disaster and its repercussions and set in Little Haiti, finds inspiration here, too.

“There’s always something to be surprised about,” says the writer and poet, who was born in Port-au-Prince and has lived in Miami 12 years. “It goes back to the fact we’re diverse, that we come from so many different places. It’s rare to find someone born and raised in Miami. ... It’s always fascinated me, listening to people from Puerto Rico or Cuba or wherever they come from, listening to their stories.”

There’s so much diversity here, in fact, that Díaz is already considering a second volume of 15 Views of Miami; if you have a story worthy of consideration, you can contact her at www.jaquiradiaz.com. But understand the competition could be fierce. There is just so much to write about down here in this dangerous land of pythons, scammers and texting drivers on the Palmetto.

“There’s so much opportunity here,” says Barrett, who has lived in Miami for 25 years. “It’s a place of opportunity for good and bad. People make new lives and start things over or get in a lot of trouble. Those things together are the ingredients for fiction.”

Meet the authors

Who: Editor Jaquira Diaz with writers Lynne Barrett, John Dufresne, M.J. Fievre, M. Evelina Galang and Geoffrey Philp.

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables.

Info: 305-442-4408 or www.booksandbooks.com

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