Little Haiti Book Festival Continues to Grow and Inspire

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.

A very special reading with Edwidge Danticat and Tamara B. Rodriguez

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!

Whew. What a busy two days!

Somehow I had never heard of the Little Haiti Book Festival until this weekend! A few weeks ago, I came across a Facebook post from the Miami Book Fair about the two day event down in Miami. They advertised a two day schedule that kicked off with a Saturday night keynote presentation with Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian author and Jacqueline Charles, a Haitian journalist.

Edwidge Danticat? Sign.me.up. 

Danticat is a favorite of mine and many of her books are on my shelf. The first book of hers that I read was Beyond the Mountains, a Middle Grade novel about a young Haitian girl who moves from Haiti to New York.

After that, I read many of her other books, included Breath, Eyes, Memory, Krik Krak, The Dew Breaker, and Brother I am Dying. I was also lucky enough to get an advance copy of her children’s book, Mama’s Nightingale. 

On Saturday night, I arrived at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex’s auditorium with my friend and our daughters, and we scored front row seats! After a few poetry and dance performances in Creole, Danticat and Charles took the stage.

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The presentation was called “Haiti: Facts and Fiction” and they both discussed their careers, the state of Haiti, and their roles in the Diaspora. The two women could have talked for hours, and I would have sat glued to my seat, enjoying every minute.

One of the highlights was Danticat’s comments about her writing process and her approach to writing deeply personal narratives. Charles talked about her observance of the Haitian millennials’ desire to “change the narrative of Haiti.” It’s great, Charles argued. But there has to be work done first in order to change the narrative.

That stayed with me for a while.

I confess, I’m one of those “millennial” Haitians in the Diaspora who wants the narrative of Haiti to be less about poverty and suffering. But I also agree with Charles that changing the narrative of Haiti needs to be less about glossy PR and more about real change.

As a first time attendee of the book festival, I left impressed. All of the events were free, and everything seemed very well-organized.

On Sunday, they had activities for the kids including drumming, arts and crafts, and story time. I also attended another panel discussion that included four Haitian women debut authors.

It was a perfect two day event in a venue that felt very intimate.

Here are some tips if you’re planning on going next year:

  1. Arrive early. There are two free parking lots that fill up very quickly. Also, on Saturday we arrived around 6pm and missed the Caribbean Marketplace next door that is only open on Saturdays from 10-6.
  2.  Enjoy the food! My friend ate griot (fried pork) and I ate some plantains with pikliz (a spicy cole slaw) Yum!
  3. Dance! On both days, there were DJs and live music. Sweat a little (or a lot) and use one of the many promotional flyers hanging around to fan yourself.
  4. Buy Books! Visit the booths or the Haitian owned book store down the street, Liberi Mapou. I visited  Liberi Mapou and bought two books at full price (my little frugal heart was hurting), but it was for a great cause. #buyblack #supportindepenentbookstores

Overall, it was a great weekend, and an organized and well planned out event. If you’re in South Florida next year and  plan on going, hit me up on Twitter! Maybe I’ll see you there!

Click on the images below to learn more about Edwidge Danticat’s titles:

Enjoy!


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