Miami Book Fair Is Recession-Proof
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The fair that began in 1984 just won't quit: Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to throng the tented stalls of downtown Miami for the 2009 fair, which opens Sunday and runs through Nov. 15. And once again, organizers have amassed a list of acclaimed writers to give readings - Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk among them.
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Never mind that this book fair has had to make do with cutbacks and state and county funding. Last year's budget was about $1.7 million and this year that was cut by $400,000.
"Our budget was severely affected," book fair director Alina Interian said. "The situation is difficult all around, as we all know. We are all feeling it one way or another."
Put on by the Florida Center for the Literary Arts at Miami Dade College, the fair is more compact this year, shedding its international section and some other components.
This year, the number of authors coming to the fair has also been reduced, from 450 to 350. And the majority of the authors will attend with financial support from their publishers, not fair organizers as in years past.
Still, the writers will come and fair organizers are hoping that so will the audiences.
Atwood, whose latest novel is "The Year of the Flood," said that people are still reading a lot of books. Never mind the advent of Twitter and other forms of social networking that she likens to shorthand.
"The question is what are they reading and how are those things they are reading being produced, distributed and being acquired," she said.
Kingsolver said "literature will never die" and stories will always be needed in any age.
"The way we tell them and the way we listen to them may change form through the ages, but the need is always there," said Kingsolver, whose latest book is "The Lacuna."
For author Jennine Capo Crucet, who wrote "How to Leave Hialeah," coming to the book fair to promote her novel will be a homecoming. She grew up in Miami and attended the book fair with her parents as a child.
"Some day, I said, I will be an author," Crucet said.
In 1984, Miami held its first book fair called Books by the Bay, which grew steadily and was renamed in the 1990s to its current name. Organizers said it is one of the largest book fairs in the country and has served as model for other cities, including Boston and Los Angeles.
For a second straight year, fair organizers have also arranged a graphic novels and comics section, a genre that experts say is growing.
Charles Kochman, executive editor at Abrams ComicArts, said comics for kids seems to be recession-proof.
"I think the moment is less about the superheros ... than they are about the ordinary person ... telling their personal stories. The graphic novels are about realism now. There has been a real shift," he said.
There will also be an exhibit of photographs and illustrations at the college campus up until Jan. 15, 2010. The exhibit will display the work that is in the graphic novel "The Photographer," a story of a photographer who traveled with Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan in the '80s.
It is to "to remind people for sure that every time there is a conflict, there are people caught up in it and for Afghanistan it's ongoing," said Stephen Figge, public events officer for Doctors Without Borders, who worked to put up the exhibit.
There is also a section where children and teens can learn to actually write and illustrate comics. Several professional storytellers and children's authors also are expected.
Pamuk said he looked forward to attending and discussing his latest novel, "The Museum of Innocence," an exploration of how humans behave when in love.
He said in a telephone interview from Boston that "the desire to read and write books will never vanish" because literature is beyond economic crises.
"The joy of reading books in time of crisis or economic boom will not change, really."
By Lisa Orkin Emmanuel
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