Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dan Wakefield

If it weren't for Books & Books I would not be living in Miami, nor would I be teaching at FIU where I have been teaching as Writer in Residence since 1994. This means I might not have a job, which in turn means I might be living somewhere on the beach - not as a resident, but rather as a bum!
When my memoir "New York in the Fifties" was published in 1992, I was invited to give a talk about it in Palm Beach. I was going to begin and end my trip there, but I happened to run in to author Gay Talese, who told me "As long as you're going to Florida, you Must go to this great independent Book Store in Coral Gables called 'Books and Books.' They have a terrific reading series, and it is run by this great guy named Mitchell Kaplan."
I took Talese's advice (lucky for me!), I came to Miami, not only read at Books and Books but was invited to a reading of Les Standiford at FIU, met Les, was invited to their annual Writers Conference (Plug: this year it will be in Key West) and then invited to teach the spring of 1994, and the rest is history.
When I started out as a writer, my first novel "Going All The Way" was published by the late, great Seymour "Sam" Lawrence, who brought many authors from obscurity to success (including Kurt Vonnegut, Gish Jen, Barry Hanna, Jane Ann Phillips, Tim O'Brien, and Susan Minot, to name a few) and he always said the key to his own success as a publisher was knowing the people who ran the Independent Bookstores throughout the country. He made personal calls on all the major independent stores, and was able to introduce new writers - or writers who had not yet gained a good audience - with his personal recommendations. The independent stores were willing to take a chance on the ones he recommended. That network of independent bookstores and independent thinkers no longer exists. Mitchell Kaplan and "Books and Books" are among the few still standing. Long may they lead the way!

- Dan Wakefield

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