Photo exhibits and live music, an on-the-spot writing class and a Happy Hour with poems on demand: Welcome to The Porch, Miami Book Fair’s outdoor pop-up lounge. Set on the corner of Northeast Third Street and Second Avenue from Nov. 12 - 19, The Porch is both a multidisciplinary showcase of local artists and an urban hangout, a place to catch your breath, rest your feet and, perhaps, rediscover the place where we live.
“The Porch is a place where we can all meet, have a dialogue and celebrate our local talent,” said program manager Melissa Messulam. “It's completely multidisciplinary and we're placing it in the town center of what is an iconic event in Miami.”
In this year’s program, every evening at The Porch has a loosely defined theme: Monday has an accent on queer culture; Tuesday, the sounds, sights and flavors of the Caribbean; and on Thursday, Noir, Miami style. (Check the Book Fair’s program for details.) It is built on collaborations with local cultural organizations such as Miami Light Project ; Ayiti Images; O, Miami; Circ X and Reading Queer, many of them Knight Arts Challenge winners.
The music program includes a “sneak peak” of Miami Light Project's and Miami Theater Center's presentation Nov. 16-18, of Philadelphia’s cabaret group The Bearded Ladies (a Philadelphia Knight Arts Challenge winner); DJ Le Spam and the Spam Allstars, the avant-dance duo Afrobeta and singer Inez Barlatier.
Two events highlight the broad range of experiences in this year’s offerings.
The Exchange For Change Speak Out, on Nov. 18, will share texts from the program’s incarcerated writers and offer an opportunity to Book Fair visitors to respond to their work. The program, which started in 2014 with one class at Dade Correctional Institution, is currently teaching 24 classes in five different institutions and, said Kathie Klarreich, chair of the board of Exchange For Change. It has since “graduated over 500 students.”
“Part of our mission is to bring the voices from the inside out,” explained Klarrich. “So we are really thrilled to be able to do that and to have their stories presented by formerly incarcerated students and family and friends of currently incarcerated students. And then also we will have a chance for the audience to respond to what they hear and take their responses back inside so that the writers will get to hear what the public thinks of their work.”
Members of the audience will be able to record their responses or actually write it on a provided postcard, an opportunity to address the writer or offer a response to the program.
Meanwhile, The BBQ Men and Women of Goulds, is, as Messulam noted, “a full sensory experience” including an exhibit by photographer and Arts Challenge winner Symone Titania Major, related sounds (available on a channel in the Silent Poetry Disco), and, on opening night, Nov. 12, a sampling of the real thing: Goulds’ own barbecue.
“My father was born and raised here,” Major said of Goulds, the predominantly African-American neighborhood between Palmetto Bay and Homestead. “We're actually living in my grandmother's house now. I used to live in the Colonial area but moved to Goulds in high school. So we went from an area that's very family oriented to an area that can be very violent. I was tired of looking at all the negative things in my neighborhood so I decided to find something positive about my community.”
What she found late one night, driving back from work, was a cloud of smoke that led her to a group of “about 30” BBQ vendors set up in corners in an area of Goulds — just as they had been doing for 50 years.
“They set up every weekend, every night until maybe about four in the morning, cooking,” she said. Little by little, she got to know them and built trust. “Everyone grabs their own corner and it's not that they were friends at first, they were all strangers [to each other], but they found common ground in their cooking, they built these relationships and now they reach out to people who might have questions or might need help with something. They even counseled me. It's very therapeutic to go and speak to them because they have seen so much. They're out in the neighborhood, they talk to everybody and they can give so much advice and just to kind of give you an example. They were so interesting, and their hospitality was so amazing. To be in an area that is so filled with negative things, and be out there spreading positivity is amazing. It is a community within a community. Here was my positive story.”
Working with her sister, Quiana Raja Major as assistant photographer and sound recorder, they set out to “really bring an authentic vibe of Goulds to the entire Miami area,” said Major.
Now, with “The Unvoiced Community: BBQ Men and Women of Goulds,” audiences “will be able to put on headphones, turn to our channel, look at the pictures and hear the conversations, the music and the different soundscapes — and of course have some barbecue. I want to really give an idea of what it would be like to come to one of the tents, because a lot of people in Miami aren't familiar with the area. So if you are hungry, and you want some barbecue, come on down South and get some real food. That way we bring some more income into the community as well.”
Fernando González is a Miami based arts and culture writer and critic.