For the second year in a row, I attended the Little Haiti Book Festival, and again I left inspired. The festival seems to have gotten bigger and better than the previous year with more activities and more people in attendance.
One of the things I appreciate most about the book festival is that it’s accessible to everyone. The one day event was free and open to the public and ran from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. with musical performances, author readings, movie screenings, and writing workshops.
The festival takes place at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, and knowing that parking can get a little crazy, we arrived around 10:45. We had just enough time to walk around, grab a program, and then head to the children’s art room.
We were in the right place at the right time, because about 20 minutes later, we were able to get great seats to see authors Edwidge Danticat and Tamara B. Rodriguez read their children’s books, My Mommy Medicine and Hair to the Queen.
My Mommy Medicine tells the story of a mom taking care of her sick daughter. Danticat told us the book was based on her own experience of comforting her daughter when she stayed home from school sick. Rodriguez’s book is about a mother who battles cancer. In the story, the children make their mother feel beautiful, even though she has lost all of her hair.
In the Q&A that followed the reading, Rodriguez told us that the book was based on her personal battle with breast cancer. Both authors were kind enough to give away signed copies of their books.
Anytime I get the chance to see Danticat in person, I am in awe. As she read her children’s book, she sang songs like “Frere Jaques” (in English and in French) and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”. She was totally engaging, asking the kids questions, making jokes and sound effects while she read.
This is the same woman who is a best selling author of dozens of books. More recently, she wrote this poignant short story about an immigrant death. It ran in the New Yorker days after last year’s Little Haiti Book Festival, and I remember reading it, being absolutely mesmerized. The story is haunting and original, and it stayed with me for a long time.
I’ve been a fan of Danticat since childhood, and her writing always makes me feel something. Whether she’s talking about the quiet horror of the Tonton Macoute or the seemingly mundane responsibilities of being a mother, her work is always filled with tangible emotion. Seeing her read her children’s book to my children made me admire her that much more as a writer.
Another highlight of the festival was attending a drumming work shop, where kids of all nationalities gathered around and were taught the history of drumming and how it traveled from the Congo to Haiti. At one point my daughter and her friend were pulled into the center of the circle and taught a traditional Haitian dance.
The drumming circle made me think about how cultures and traditions are passed down. I wasn’t raised in a Haitian household, and so I often find myself learning about Haitian culture alongside my children. I want my children to know as much as possible about their heritage, and events like this give them an immersive experience.
The festival is also a reminder of how important it is for Haitians in the Diaspora to gather as a community to make sure the legacy of Haitian art and culture is passed on to the next generation.
In a city that continues to change and faces the threat of gentrification, the festival is a reminder of the contribution of Haitian art and culture, not only in South Florida but around the world.
The festival is in its 9th year, and I’m already excited about next year’s event. If you’re in Miami or the surrounding area, make a point to go. And don’t forget to try the griot and pikliz, two of Haiti’s most loved dishes!