An Emotional Remembrance For Jamal Khashoggi, And WLRN Staff's Other Favorite Book Fair Moments

Nov 19, 2018

In 1984, there were few writers who thought it'd be worth their time to visit a book fair in the Magic City.

"Nobody thought of Miami as such a serious place," said Mitchell Kaplan, co-founder of the Miami Book Fair International and owner of Books & Books.

"When I'd ask for an author to come to the book fair, they'd go, 'yeah, sure, we have a new prescription drug book out, and we're happy to send that author.'" 

But this year's event — the 35th — attracted 450 published authors to downtown Miami for readings, lectures and panels. Our reporters and editors attended as journalists as well as book nerds and proud South Floridians.

The following are some of WLRN staffers' most memorable moments:

Texas Comes To Florida

On Wednesday night, I had the opportunity to interview Lawrence Wright about his latest book, "God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State," for one of the official Book Fair events. The book is part love letter, part warning — and a completely engrossing read about Texas and how it came to be so culturally and politically powerful.

It was a fun conversation. Wright is just as good at telling stories about the state that raised him as he is at writing them. He does a killer Ladybird Johnson impersonation.

But there was a moment at the end of the talk that's lingered with me over the past week. Wright has reported extensively on terrorism and politics in the Middle East. He was friends with Jamal Khashoggi. I asked him what he wanted people to know about Khashoggi.

"Tyrannies have the effect of turning everybody into cowards, and Jamal was not a coward," Wright said. "If someone is not held accountable [for his death] then it's not just the loss of justice in a single person, it's the endorsement of oppression that will stamp out the voices of moderation wherever they might be found."

He described coming home from working in places where it's hard to be a reporter.

"The main thing I can say about that is how grateful I am to be able to come back to a country where I can write," he said.

And then he told an anecdote about mentoring young Saudi reporters. "I was teaching them skills they couldn't use. They learned how to write stories that couldn't be published."

Before he left the Middle East, Wright presented gifts to his Saudi mentees. He gave University of Texas key chains to the women, "for the day when they would be allowed to drive."

— Sammy Mack, health reporter

Visiting The Book Fair In The Midst of the #FloridaRecount

Usually I try to parse through the panels and attend a few, but this year, with around-the-clock #FloridaRecount coverage, I didn't have the stamina to do much digging. I did snag an interview with Kenyan author and social activist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o about his prison memoir "Wrestling With the Devil."

It was written in the 1970s after he was thrown in prison for writing and producing a play that was critical of the government. But most importantly, it was written in the local language that the common man could understand. When he made the same critiques in the King's English, no one seemed to care.

My conversation with Thiong'o reminded me of the basic importance of reading and literacy but also my place in it as a reporter: It's not enough to just report things that are worth reporting. It's important to report things in a way that can actually make a difference. Speak truth to power on behalf of the little guy, even if it means making some enemies at the top.

— Danny Rivero, reporter

In New City, First-Time Fair Goer Finds A Little Bit Of Home

This was my first Miami Book Fair, and I was especially excited when I saw a fellow Texan coming into town to share his first-generation Mexican immigrant experience.

Julian Castro, who was secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, released a new memoir, "America: An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up from My American Dream."

The book details how his grandparents migrated from Mexico. His mother was part of the Chicano movement and an activist for Mexican rights, which sparked his and his twin brother’s interest to leave home, attend Harvard University and pursue law school.

As the child of Mexican immigrants myself, I felt a sense of fulfillment hearing stories similar to my own.

— Alejandra Martinez, Sundial producer 

NPR's Peter Sagal poses with WLRN reporter (and running enthusiast) Kate Stein.
Credit Andrew Cortez

Nerding Out With Peter Sagal

I had a blast nerding out over running and radio with one of the people I've grown up listening to on NPR: Peter Sagal, host of the quiz show "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" He's got a new book called "The Incomplete Book of Running." In it, he shares stories of guiding legally blind runners in several races, including the 2013 Boston Marathon — the year the bombs went off; how running helped him through the end of his marriage; and, on a lighter note, eating pigs' ears before running a 3:09 marathon.

At one point, we were talking about why we run. Sagal said it was important for people to have something that gets them out of their heads, especially the kind of people who go to events like this one — meaning, the Miami Book Fair. I cracked up, and so did the audience. But I also think there's a lot of truth to that.

When I run, it's like I briefly kidnap myself from my day and my head to take in the world around me without having to put anything out. It gives me new energy for my job and my life. It was really cool to be able to talk about that in front of a live (and appreciative!) audience with someone who, it turns out, has this whole other passion beyond what I've grown up hearing on the radio.

— Kate Stein, environment reporter

English And Spanish, Sure — How About French, Too? 

The Miami Book Fair buzzes to the city’s bilingual flair. Several panels were offered in Spanish, and the array of Spanish-language book stands was impressive.

Yet one panel on French Caribbean stories caught my attention because it was offered in French (with an English translation). The authors, who come from Haiti and Martinique, described how that context is represented in works ranging from documentaries to theater to poetry.

The discussion — albeit a tad academic — brought up some big ideas about the role of history in storytelling. Smaller intimate portraits can often inform history as much as archetypical events that tend to shape national discourse.

To that end, I’m looking forward to diving into Serge Bilé’s “Yasuké,” which is about the first recorded Japanese black samurai.

— Alex Gonzalez, The South Florida Roundup producer

From left to right, WLRN's Tom Hudson hosts a Miami Book Fair panel: romance novelist Nadine Gonzalez, AP reporter Curt Anderson and essayist Dawn Davies.
Credit Katie Lepri / WLRN

South Florida Roundup Goes Street Fair

Doing a live radio program outdoors at the Book Fair means hoping for cloudy skies but no rain. A Goldilocks weather forecast is best — not too hot, shady sun, and just a hint of a breeze. That’s what we got Friday afternoon when we hosted the South Florida Roundup from the street fest.

Oh yeah — we had some great South Florida authors on the program, too.

Authors sometimes are reluctant guests on the Roundup. They worry that since they’re not journalists, they won’t have anything insightful to share as we dissect the news of the week. But journalists don’t have a monopoly on understanding the news that affects our lives as South Floridians, and the authors we hosted during our live Book Fair program proved that.

With voting and the voting process under scrutiny in South Florida, we talked a lot about politics.

Romance novelist Nadine Gonzalez voted in Miami-Dade County. “We did our job,” she said.

Dawn Davies is an essayist and Broward County resident. With voting in Broward County under scrutiny, she described how she almost didn't see the U.S. Senate race listed on the ballot in Broward. “I missed it the first time.”

Then I asked her if she was confident her vote counted.

“Like in a literal sense or in a theoretical sense?” she asked, like only a writer would.

— Tom Hudson, host, vice president of news