The book-publishing industry has a gender gap. Study after study has shown the sector that should be the most enlightened has yet to shatter the glass ceiling: Men publish more books, and the vast majority of major literary awards go to male authors who write books about men. These facts are especially surprising, in part, because women account for the overwhelming majority of book buyers.
Miami Book Fair International (MBFI) is trying to rectify this disparity by putting the focus on women working in nearly all of the genres: from memoirists and essayists to historians, journalists, poets, and novelists. This Sunday, November 15, through next Sunday, November 22, MBFI will prove to the literary world that women aren’t simply a market trend. And MBFI cofounder and chair Mitchell Kaplan is proud of the fair’s varied lineup.
“From the outset, we’ve always wanted the fair to be like a gigantic tent under which all of Miami’s diverse community would be welcome,” Kaplan says. “The best way to do that is to present a diverse array of authors.” To achieve that end, MBFI seeks out authors who have published with smaller presses and haven’t been featured here before. “Our fair is one of the most culturally inclusive events anywhere,” he notes.
Kaplan is particularly excited to welcome back legendary punk rocker Patti Smith, who will headline this year’s fair. She will read from her new book, M Train. Smith, who was one of the few female members of New York’s renowned 1970s punk scene, returns to memoir after the critical and commercial success of 2010’s Just Kids. M Train is classic Smith, a mournful and nonlinear reflection on her life with her recently departed husband. It’s peppered with tales of Smith’s adventures, her penchant for traveling to off-the-grid locations, and her deep appreciation for poetry. An Evening With Patti Smith kicks off MBFI this Sunday at 7 p.m.
M Train‘s poetic prose seems to be a theme among memoirists highlighted at this year’s festival. Elizabeth Alexander, the Yale poetry professor turned memoirist, returns to Miami to talk about her book The Light of the World. Alexander’s work, like Smith’s, is a lyrical and melancholy account of the unexpected death of a husband; it’s a reflection on sorrow and loneliness. Alexander will speak about her book, as well as the difficult process of writing, at the November 21 panel “American Lives.” The panel will also feature Sandra Cisneros, the Chicana writer whose nonfiction has given voice to underrepresented women of color. Cisneros will talk about her latest, A House of My Own: Stories From My Life, a beautifully illustrated compilation of biographical and nonfiction essays.
Indeed, family, and reflections on it, occupies many of the women who have written memoirs in the past year. Wednesday, November 18, photographer Sally Mann will read from her highly praised Hold Still: A Memoir With Photographs. Mann explores her role as both artist and mother and reflects on the still-controversial black-and-white photographs she took of her children and reproduced in her 1992 book, Immediate Family. Mann’s Hold Still explores the intersection of the personal with the political, a theme that undoubtedly runs through Meghan Daum’s books of essays — My Misspent Youth and The Unspeakable — as well. Daum, a columnist at the Los Angeles Times, is a writer with a brutal scalpel, dissecting her ambivalence toward and disdain of the familial roles women are often expected to fulfill. Daum will speak about her books November 22 as part of the panel Cultural Explores: A Reading From Essays and Memoirs.
Daum, of course, won’t be the only journalist at MBFI. Music critic Jessica Hopper, a senior editor for the indie music site Pitchfork, will also discuss her book, The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. Hopper’s firebrand approach and keen insight have earned her a sizable following, and her November 22 panel on the state of music criticism will no doubt be an interesting one. Also of interest is Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter who notoriously claimed Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction in the leadup to the Iraq War. November 21, Miller will discuss her book The Story: A Reporter’s Journey.
On the other end of the nonfiction spectrum are the historians, most notably Stacy Schiff and Karen Abbott. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Schiff will read from her fifth book — The Witches: Salem, 1692 — November 21. The Witches is a hefty and comprehensive account of the witch trials and hysteria that overtook 17th-century Boston. Schiff is a sensitive writer, and her narrative brings to the forefront the voices of women and girls who were the center of the trials. Abbott also comes to her historical narrative from a similar perspective, though her Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War is more of a study in heroism. Abbott will discuss her book as part of the Civil War Stories: Non Fiction panel November 21.