"Why Not Try?"

Mitchell Kaplan, Founder, BOOKS & BOOKS

What I do isn’t just about selling books—it’s about creating spaces and events that bring authors and audiences together.

I was in college when I first imagined opening a bookstore. I had discovered that at the center of most literary movements of the twentieth century, a bookstore was involved. In the 1910s, Sylvia Beach owned and operated Paris’ Shakespeare and Company, and it was a gathering place for English-language expats post–World War I. Shakespeare and Company gave them—the Lost Generation—a voice. It even published James Joyce’s Ulysses. In New York City later in the century came the marvelous Gotham Book Mart, owned and operated by Frances Steloff, who fought the great censorship battles of the day. She also brought in the likes of DH Lawrence and European literary magazines to showcase some of the great writing that was happening all over the world. In the ’50s with the rise of the beat generation came City Lights in San Francisco, founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

These places were more than bookstores; they were centers of gravity. They were their own communities. They gave me the notion that literary culture was really, really important.

When I opened Books & Books in 1982, it was in a golden age of independent bookselling. Over 50% of all books sold were sold through independent bookstores. There was no Amazon—there wasn’t even the Internet. What there were thousands of English majors like me who didn’t know what to do, so they opened bookstores. (I’m only being partially facetious when I say that.)

But eventually, mega bookstores and the Internet and Amazon did come along. They changed the landscape of bookselling, but they could not compete with what bookstores can provide: a rallying point for a community, especially through events.

That led me to co-found the Miami Book Fair along with Dr. Eduardo Padrón. It actually began as The Coral Gables Festival of Books & Writers—a mini book fair. I had been to book fairs in New York and Boston, and I always wanted to have a festival in Miami. Thanks to Dr. Padrón and his vision
to enliven downtown Miami, we were able to organize a much larger
book fair.

The first book fair lasted for two days, brought in seventy authors, and it was a smashing success. We started with the same format we have now—a street fair for publishers and talks by authors. Today, the Miami Book Fair is eight days long and brings over 250 authors and thousands of visitors. It’s one of the few community-wide events in Miami that everyone comes to, all the disparate groups in this town. And it’s all done through literature and wanting to meet writers and to see their books.

I love being able to say that the Miami Book Fair hasn’t been the only spinoff of my desire to honor literary culture. Because of the Internet, there are other ways to do it: through podcasts, through film and television adaptations. When opportunities like these are presented, I always ask myself, “Why not? Why not try?” When I think of what all of this is for—the bookstore, the podcast, the movie production, the fair—it’s for cultivating the next generation of readers. It makes the question “Why not?” impossible to answer.

Books and Books

Submit your Innovation Story

Join and network with a global community of innovators  by sharing your success story with the world.