Jan Mapou glances around, and everywhere he looks, he sees people staring into their phones, typing away madly.
This is why, he says, events like the Haitian Caribbean Book Fair are vital.
“Everybody has their little machine,” says Mapou, a writer and arts advocate who owns Libreri Mapou book store. “This is to say, ‘Listen — books are extremely important, too.’”
A Knight Arts Challenge grantee, the Third Annual Haitian Caribbean Book Fair is a literary celebration to be sure, but it’s also more. The founder and president of Sosyete Koukouy (Society of Fireflies), a multi-disciplinary arts company that seeks to preserve Haitian traditions, Mapou views the event as a way to celebrate all Haitian and Caribbean culture — just in time to celebrate Sosyete Koukouy’s 50th anniversary.
The fair kicks off Saturday with an opening reception at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex and will include a tribute to Dr. Gérard Férère, retired professor emeritus at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia; Edwidge Danticat, author of Claire of the Sea Light and other novels as well as the memoir Brother, I’m Dying; and Bernard Diederich, who has written extensively on the Jean-Claude Duvalier regime.
On May 24, the tents go up in the fashion of Miami Book Fair International, which is helping out with the event. Northeast Second Avenue will be closed to traffic from Northeast 59th Street to 59th Terrace. More than 100 vendors and authors have signed up to participate in a day of music, Caribbean food, workshops and lectures. There will also be activities for kids, including magic and puppet shows.
Danticat, who has appeared at the first two festivals, says she’s happy to be part of the proceedings.
“It’s really exciting to watch the participation and attendance grow,” she says. “Culture is always one of the essential ways a community makes its mark, especially in such a vibrant city like Miami. … As the neighborhood becomes gentrified, it’s harder and harder for people to hold on. It’s a crucial way of making our mark, making ourselves seen and heard in the community by sharing our art and music and literature.
“I think having these landmark events also allows people in other communities to get to know something about us other than what’s on the news. Some of the most powerful things Haiti has are visual arts and literature and music. This gives us something to share.”
Mapou agrees that Little Haiti’s image is important as changes come to the community.
“It’s important that people discover this area called Little Haiti,” he says. “Whatever happens here in the next five or 10 years, we have to preserve our culture. We have to preserve our history.”