Miami Book Fair Celebrates 25 Years
ARI SHAPIRO, Host:
The Miami International Book Fair bills itself as the oldest in the country. This week, the fair celebrates its 25th anniversary. Mitchell Kaplan helped start the tradition. He owns the store Books and Books in Miami, and he's past president of the American Booksellers Association. He came into the studios of our member station WLRN, and I asked what inspired him to start this fair.
M: The inspiration for it came out of the fact that Miami, back in 1982, wasn't really thought of much as a literary town. I had opened the bookshop just a couple of years before, and I knew what people were reading. And I knew that what they were reading was as sophisticated as anywhere else in the country and that Miami was getting sort of a bad rap.
SHAPIRO: So part of this was kind of a desire to contradict the stereotype of Miami as being maybe less cultured?
M: It was a bit of that. There was also an attempt to sort of develop some community pride. And, you know, in 1982, Miami was a pretty bleak place. Time magazine had an article with the headline "Miami: Paradise Lost?" with a big question mark. The downtown was kind of crumbling. South Beach wasn't as what we think of it today. So we decided that what we would do is we'd bring authors and we would bring publishers to show what books were being published. We thought what we would have to do in order to make it a region-wide fair is we want to celebrate the diversity that is and was Miami.
SHAPIRO: When you started this fair, there was no Amazon.com, there was no Borders Books and Music, there was no Kendall handheld electronic reading machine. How different is the world you're operating in today from the world that you were in then?
M: Well, those were the golden years.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
M: To be honest. Yeah, I know, you're absolutely right. The world was extremely different as a bookseller. Back then probably over 50 percent of all books sold were sold through independent book shops like mine. So it was extremely different.
SHAPIRO: I've got to say, you own the kind of store that has been going out of business all across the country, selling a technology that many people have stopped using, and yet you seem remarkably optimistic and sanguine and sort of at peace with the whole landscape.
M: Well, you know what it is? In some ways, we're selling the past. We're selling that sense of what used to be. And I think that's going to come back in all kinds of businesses. As people find themselves in economic hardship, they're going to want to go back to those things that bring them comfort. And I think that small, community-based businesses do do that, and bookstores particularly.
SHAPIRO: You've been doing this for 25 years, and during that time some of the world's greatest authors have come and spoken at the Miami International Book Fair. Is there one moment in particular that really sticks with you?
M: We've had, you know, everyone from Hunter Thompson to Joseph Heller, Jerzy Kosinski. We've had so many writers - Allen Ginsberg - writers who, you know, are giants who are no longer with us. In our first year, we had James Baldwin. But there was also a time that I remember, and it was early, early on, just as Garrison Keillor was at the height of his power...
SHAPIRO: Oh, yeah, I've heard of him.
M: ...with his radio program. And at the end, he led the entire auditorium in the singing of "Amazing Grace." And it's just, you know, for Miami at the time, which had just emerged from this kind of very difficult period, to see this auditorium filled with people all singing in a united voice was quite magical for me. That's something that I remember.
SHAPIRO: Mitchell Kaplan owns the store Books and Books in Miami. He's the co-founder of the Miami International Book Fair celebrating its 25th anniversary this week. Thanks a lot.
M: Thank you for having me.
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