To say Miami has a way with story is like saying the Atlantic has a way with salt. Factual, perhaps. Even true. But not entirely either. See, story isn’t only an inherent property of our city, it’s integral to everything this city is, was and ever will be. Like salt, story is an essential element. Some might say the essential element. The very thing that keeps Miami bouyant.
All that said, Miami should rank among the top of the world’s literary heavyweight cities. Yet, it doesn’t. Yet. But if one keen, cool wordslinger has her way, it will. And soon too.
We speak of the heavily-awarded Jaquira Diaz, whose 15 Views of Miami (Burrow Press) takes 15 writers and let’s ‘em have their written way with 15 different neighborhoods. The result? 15 loosely-connected stories which combine to tie Miami to its rightful place in literary history.
Want proof? Hit Books and Books on Monday January 19th to catch Ms D and friends show off a few of those 15 Views; there you’ll get all the proof necessary.
In a sentence (or three), what is 15 Views of Miami?
15 Views of Miami is a collection of loosely-linked short stories set in fifteen different Miami neighborhoods. It’s a collection that captures different lives and cultures and languages. The real Miami.
Who came up with the bright idea?
The 15 Views series started in Orlando—the idea itself was the love child of writers Ryan Rivas and Nathan Holic. There are several rumors surrounding the origins of the series, including one you may have heard: That it began as a drinking game at an iconic Orlando strip club. But the truth is the series was inspired by the late Jeanne Leiby, who was a professor at the University of Central Florida, and editor of The Florida Review, and later, The Southern Review. Jeanne was a mentor to many young Orlando writers. Burrow Press had already published 15 Views of Orlando and 15 Views of Tampa Bay when I approached Ryan (the publisher) and Nathan (the series editor) and insisted that we needed a 15 Views of Miami.
How were the authors chosen (and who did the choosing)?
I chose all the authors. I wanted a variety of authors whose work was literary, iconic Miami writers and established writers and emerging writers, novelists and short story writers, essayists and poets and humor writers. I was looking for diversity in terms of background and culture, but also in terms of voice and style. Miami is so diverse, and I was looking for a group of writers who could showcase that diversity. I was looking for the real Miami.
Was/Were there any particular criteria each writer had to meet?
Each story had to be linked to one of the stories that came before it, either thematically, or using an image, a character, or place.
Were the writers given any instructions or directives beforehand?
Aside from the way the stories are linked, each writer was asked to write an original story for the collection, and they had to do so in a particular order. They each chose a different neighborhood in Miami-Dade where their story would be set. Also, they had about a week to write the story.
Aside from that, did any particular pattern emerge after all the works were in?
Part of the fun of reading 15 Views of Miami is making those connections, when you recognize a character from a previous story, or an event is mentioned, or you see an image that you saw elsewhere in the book. There are things that are subtle, that you catch during a second read. Something I love is the recurrence of certain themes: lost loves, apparitions, broken hearts, nostalgia.
I like to think of myself as a Miami writer, with a Miami voice. But one Miami voice? That would be like saying there’s only one Miami. Miami is many things, so many different people, cultures, neighborhoods. A Miami voice is a dynamic thing, like the city itself.
Would you also say 15 Views was in some respects a way to give voice to literary Miami?
One of our missions was to explore and showcase the wealth of literary writers in Miami, the literary landscape of the city. And we were only able to capture a small fraction of that, which is amazing. There are still so many voices, so many stories.
Do you foresee a time when Miami might finally live up to its narrative?
There’s still a lot of work to be done here, but it’s happening now. There are people here—movers and shakers, artists and poets and writers and musicians and innovators and educators—who love this city and are working hard to ensure that. What I’d personally like to see? Better access to public transportation, more conversations about the segregation that still lives in Miami, more conversations about gentrification and its effects on people of color and the working poor, about displacement, educational inequality, low wages, and lack of affordable housing. But more than anything else, I’d like to see solutions, action.
Will Jaquira Díaz be right there in the thick of it all?
Jaquira Diaz and Friends read from and discuss 15 Views of Miami, Monday January 19th 8pm at Books and Books 265 Aragon Ave Coral Gables. For more information log on here.
WORDS BY John Hood