It's impossible to count the fascinating authors we've seen at Miami Book Fair International, but one thing is certain: Poet Nikki Giovanni is the single most mesmerizing speaker I've ever had the pleasure to witness. And that's saying something: I've been going to the fair for years, and I've loved every minute of it (well, except for the year the rains almost blew down some of the tents, but even that was kind of fun, in a Perfect Storm sort of way). I've seen Madeleine Albright, Barack Obama, Nigella Lawson, Madeleine L'Engle (the first writer I ever fell in love with), Jeffrey Toobin, Ann Patchett, and I have been thrilled. I remember Michael Ondaatje's deep and lovely voice as he read his poem The Cinnamon Peeler's Wife and Robert Olen Butler's hilarious performance of his short story Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot. I've seen Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry roughly 10,000 times now, and I always laugh like a fool.
But Nikki ... oh, Nikki. Last night she read poetry and rambled about politics, Bill Cosby, the Jena six and more to a packed house. She was funnier than a certain comedian who kicked off the fair, and she broke our hearts reading a poem about her mother - "Mommy" - who died in 2005. I wish I could bottle the night and uncork it every time someone carries on about Miami's lack of culture. A packed house, for POETRY. (It does not go unnoticed that these complainers are frequently, though not always, from New York; Chicagoans also contribute to this putting down of South Florida, which is a joke, since they can't even make decent pizza, which you have to admit the New Yorkers excel at.)
If you couldn't make Nikki's appearance, if you live too far from Miami to get there after work, I truly feel bad for you. Nikki's appearance is what the book fair is all about: authors connecting with readers, moving us, amusing us, reminding us all of the power of words.