Musings on Literature from South Beach
I’ve come a long way with Miami. I was born here but I grew up in New York City where I spent my formative years in classrooms that resembled more of a United Nations summit than a typical American middle school. There was an Iraqi, Israeli, Iranian, Russian, French, Spanish, Sudanese, one kid from Singapore, two from New Jersey, and me, a first generation Cuban-American kid, all sharing the same eighth grade classroom. I grew up hearing stories from dozens of countries in multiple languages. We had Latin as part of the curriculum, we had school visits to art museums and obscure theatres in the village where Stanley Tucci gave staged readings. My artistic sensibilities and comfort around multiple cultures cried to me that I belonged in New York! New York was the place for me.
When my father moved us to Miami the summer before I turned sixteen, I felt plucked from the multicultural surroundings that had become embedded into the fabric of my personal development. Even if Miami were home to hundreds of thousands of people hailing from the same heritage as I. What could Miami possibly offer me that I didn’t already have in New York?
It turns out, a lot more than my limited thinking allowed me back in those days. After stints in Los Angeles, New York, and even Spain, I found myself living once again in Miami. Now grown-up with a family of my own, I have quickly learned Miami has evolved into something much more than the tanned, scantily clad inhabitants who eat mangoes and sway their curvy hips to hypnotic salsa and rhythmic late night club beats. For the record: that still exists and honestly, what’s wrong with that? It’s just one of the many layers this magical city reveals to its visitors. But as an artist, this city has become a haven. A place where ideas are free to thrive. Take risks. Fail. Rise. This city will embrace you. If you allow it to.
As a writer and literary programs manager for The Betsy-South Beach Hotel, I have been around some of the best literary minds in town (and many from out of town). Literature in South Florida is alive and thriving. Flocks of artists, writers and thought leaders are coming down here to explore new levels of their creativity that may be locked in more established places like New York, LA, or dare we say, Paris.
The Betsy has many hidden treasures, its beautiful lobby makes you feel like you’re in some majestic part of your house that you unlocked through a secret portal. And what I have learned in my short time as the literary programs manager for The Betsy is that there are many important cultural and artistic organizations in Miami doing meaningful, groundbreaking work. And it’s only just beginning. Once desperate to leave. I now want everyone to come. And they have.
In August, The Writer’s Room hosted M. Evelina Galang in a residency. M. Evelina heads up the creative writing faculty at the University of Miami. She proudly boasts UM has a creative writing faculty composed of all faculty members who are writers of color. University of Miami. M. Evelina’s new book, Angel de la Luna & the 5th Glorious Mystery, about a fourteen year-old Philippine girl struggling with family against the backdrop of the Second Philippine People Power Revolution in 2001 is receiving wonderful reviews across media outlets. A multicultural book from a multicultural writer living in, wait for it, Miami.
I also met with travel writer, Tom Swick who wrote for the Sun Sentinel for many years and is now being featured in the 2014 Best American Travel Writing. He lives here by the way. I also caught up with Scott Cunningham, who was in residency for a few days in August. Scott is the creator of the nationally recognized O’ Miami Poetry Festival that now runs every year during the month of April. All of this is happening in, say it with me now, Miami.
I was at a poetry reading featuring Julie Marie Wade, Sandra Simonds and Jan Becker celebrating queer literature during the inaugural Reading Queer festival that kicked off at The Betsy’s B Bar. I was at the “Escribe Aqui- Write Here” multilingual readings that featured authors from Haiti, Jamaica, Peru, Colombia, Punjab-India, Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba. It was a packed month! And it’s just getting started.
I say this as a kickoff to “Letters from The Writer’s Room,” a monthly piece about Miami, what’s happening here and how The Writer’s Room at The Betsy is involved.
Miami is a city of many passions, none the least of which is its literature, art and culture.
Here’s my ten second Miami sound off:
- The Betsy-South Beach’s Literary Programming (All Year)
- O’Miami (Poetry Festival in April-programs All Year)
- Miami Book Fair International (November – Note: 3rd largest book fair in the world)
- Art Basel Miami (Around 50 thousand collectors, art dealers, artists, curators, and art enthusiasts attend annually)
- Books and Books (considered one of the best independent book stores in the US. Author visits year round)
- Wynwood District, Downtown, Midtown, Coral Gables (all have chic restaurants, bars, arts organizations and little festivals that pop up practically every weekend.)
I am proud to say, Miami and I are in love. She has given me the very multicultural atmosphere I lost so many years ago in my middle school classroom.
Coming up: The Betsy Writer’s Room first annual Writers for Young Readers program welcomes inaugural author, Matt de la Peña to South Beach. This is a joint partnership with Miami Dade Public Library System and Florida International University’s Department of English. In addition, I’ll be talking about the Celebrate Orgullo festival celebrating Hispanic pride and featuring authors writing in that space. Also poet, Renee Ashley will be in residence and I’m excited to chat with her about her experience with the Penn Station poet series.
Quote Quiz of the Month: (and you can’t just type it in Google! Not that I can check. I can however, hold you to the scribe & bibliophile code of honor. That’s a thing, which I may or may not have invented. Here goes.
Who said,“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster”?
Hint: It was an author who would have been a travel writer had he lived in the 21stcentury.
I’ll post the winner in next month’s piece.
Till next time.
From The Writer’s Room at The Betsy-South Beach, abrazos,
Pablo Cartaya is an author of books, Knight Literary Programs Manager at The Betsy-South Beach and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a lover of books, family, food, and random quotes. He calls Miami home. Follow Pablo on Twitter at @phcartaya.
About The Betsy-South Beach and The Writer’s Room
The Betsy-South Beach is an award-winning 61-room boutique hotel that expansively embraces community through a program called PACE (philanthropy, arts, culture and education). The Betsy-South Beach is a 2012 Knight Foundation Arts Challenge Grand recipient for its cornerstone program, The Writer’s Room (betsywritersroom.com), and is also the host hotel for LitChat’s bi-annual global retreat. The Betsy is located at 1440 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, Florida. 305-531-6100.