Well Read

A Local Bookstore Owner Puts Miami On The Literary Map
Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan has helped make Miami a literary destination.
Mitchell Kaplan
Owner, Books & Books; Founder, Miami Book Fair

"Every author who has done a tour knows about Books & Books because it's practically a South Florida institution,” said Jonathan Cohn, an author, journalist, and Miami native, in a Huffington Post article naming the venerable store as one of the "50 Best Indie Bookstores in America. Launched in 1982, the shop and its founder have become local icons.

"Miami is underestimated as a cultural mecca," says Mitchell Kaplan. "And, in the literary world, the city has been under appreciated forever," he says emphatically. "But, it has come of age."

Mitchell Kaplan co-founded one of the largest book festivals in the United States, the Miami Book Fair.
Master Storyteller
Developing A Writer's Mecca

At the age of 25, Kaplan opened his first Books & Books on Aragon Avenue in the city's Coral Gables neighborhood. There are now six locations in Miami, with one in Key West as well. Three of the Miami stores have cafés, and a fourth, at the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center has a full service bar. Back in 2007, Kaplan took his concept abroad opening a Books & Books on the Cayman Islands.

His critical motivation was to put Miami on the map as a place where people didn't just read paperbacks on the beach, but where authors would clamor to promote their books, and where hometown writers would become international bestselling authors.

Time spent in Washington, D.C., as a university student introduced Kaplan to the idea of an indie bookstore.
Paradise Found
The Start Of Something Big

The early 1980s, however, was not an auspicious era for Miami, according to Kaplan. "Time magazine ran a cover story with the headline 'Miami: Paradise Lost?' It was a very bad time.' "

The young upstart, however, was determined to help his hometown develop into something more. "I had confidence that Miami had this strong literary community, and it eventually bore fruit," he says.

Two years after he opened his first bookstore, he co-founded Miami Book Fair with Eduardo J. Padron, president of Miami Dade College. "Because of the fair, Miami started developing this reputation as a literary hub."

Kaplan's Books & Books thrives in the age of online booksellers because of its importance to the community.
Spreading The Word
Redefining A New Era

Kaplan sits at one of the tables in the coffee shop area at the flagship store. He explains how Books & Books thrives in the age of Amazon and Kindle. "It's not just about a commercial transaction—about buying a book—it’s about community. You can't get the same experience online."

Along the walls are photos of literary giants, pictures taken during their visits to Books & Books. He's hosted at least 10,000 authors in the last three decades at his stores. The most memorable? Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer. It wasn't so much that Kaplan was in the company of a Nobel Prize winner, but the fact that Singer embodied the values of a simpler time.

"He represented a world that doesn't exist anymore. A world before the internet, before digital, where you had to use a landline to get in touch with people. I'm not a luddite, but I like that world. Books are a part of that world."

Local Recommendations

Tales Of The City

Mitchell Kaplan has spent most of his life in Miami, and he's not only seen its cultural renaissance, he's been a part of it. He believes Miami continually adds to the writing of its history, becoming internationally known as go-to destination for art and culture. Here, we share the storyteller's guide to Miami.

Emerging Art

Seeking Out Special Places

An experimental artist's bookstore and community project space has emerged in the city's Little Haiti neighborhood: Exile Books (5900 N.W. 2nd Ave.; 917-903-0907). Amanda Keeley, who worked in New York as a personal assistant to Yoko Ono before returning to her native Miami, started the nomadic pop-up artist's bookstore in 2014. Three years later she moved into a permanent space, and has established Exile as a place to meet other creatives and explore this burgeoning art neighborhood.

Another mentor for emerging Miami artists, Fredric Snitzer, evolved his poster shop into a prominent gallery in the 1970s. Now the Fredric Snitzer Gallery (1540 N.E. Miami Ct.; 305-448-8976) is a must-visit for serious collectors looking for the next big name. Even if you're not in the market to buy, there's a reason to visit anyway. Inside the 40-year-old warehouse space, known as one of the most cutting-edge galleries in the city, there is always an impressive line up of changing group shows and exhibitions. The more traditional Coral Gables Museum (285 Aragon Ave.; 305-603-8067), next door to Kaplan’s Books & Books flagship, is dedicated to the Spanish-style architecture of the graciously designed neighborhood, all of which was created in the 1920s. Monthly bike tours, hosted by the museum, take visitors on a scenic ride through the lush, tree-lined community. Bike rentals and helmets are available across the street from the museum.

Seeing The City

Through The Eyes Of Writers

"I see the Garden through the eyes of writer Jamaica Kincaid," says Kaplan about Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (10901 Old Cutler Rd.; 305-667-1651). Kincaid describes her walk through the gardens in her book My Brother, in which she evocatively describes buying two rhododendrons and the pleasure it gave her. The 83-acre garden is a mind-boggling exploration of thousands of tropical plants. For a more historical perspective, Kaplan says the original headquarters of the Miami Daily News and Metropolis Newspaper has stories in its walls. Freedom Tower (600 Biscayne Blvd.; 305-237-7738), built in 1925, sits in the center of the downtown, in sharp contrast to the modern glass, towering skyscrapers. Open to the public, the registered National Historic Landmark is considered the Ellis Island of the South for its role from 1962 to 1974 as the Cuban Assistance Center, helping refugees who fled the regime of Fidel Castro. Learn more on the second-floor gallery, which is devoted to the exile experience, and the diaspora’s cultural legacy.

Spotlight On Cinema

Indie Film Thrives Around Town

"I've always been interested in making books into films. Right now, we have about 15 projects in the works," says Kaplan, who is also a co-producer of a movie production company, The Mazur/Kaplan Company. His latest project with Hollywood producing partner Paula Mazur is "The Man Who Invented Christmas," about writer Charles Dickens. The cinephile says he's lucky to have an arthouse cinema just across the street from his bookstore. Coral Gables Art Cinema (260 Aragon Ave.; 786-472-2249), screens independent and art films, and encourages filmmakers to create original works. Check the calendar for ongoing programming, which include talks by local and internationally renowned cineastes.

One of Miami's oldest cultural landmarks, The Tower Theater (1508 S.W. 8th St.; 305-237-2463), opened in 1926, and was one of the first state-of-the-art theaters in the South. In the early 1960s, Cuban refugees got a taste of American culture from films shown here. While it shows a number of multicultural movies, many of its offerings are in Spanish. In the artsy Wynwood distrcit, O Cinema (90 N.W. 29th St.; 305-571-9970), a converted former warehouse, shows independent films, and hosts a number of festivals—from the Caribbean Short Film Festival to Popcorn Frights—throughout the year.

Photo courtesy of Paul Perdomo.

Cultural Infusion

Many Flavors, Perfect View

Those who leave Miami without indulging in some of its greatest imports miss a host of delicious oppoportunities. Tops among them, the Cuban sandwich, made with roasted pork, ham, cheese, pickles, mustard, on grilled bread. Savor a Cubano at the place that creates the most authentic in town. El Palacio de Los Jugos has nine locations spread throughout the city, but locals favor the original landmark (5721 W. Flagler St.; 305-262-0070) which opened in 1977. For the best Cuban cocktail (this is the place for the freshest Mojito), and lively Latin music, head to Little Havana's main street, Calle Ocho, where you'll find Ball & Chain (1513 S.W. 8th St.; 305-237-7738). Opened in 1935, it boasts the oldest liquor license in Miami.

Photo courtesy of Ball & Chain.

Where Cultures Intersect

Meet The Locals

Nestled right in the heart of the affluent Wynwood and Miami Design District neighborhoods is Little Haiti, where a more grass-roots arts community thrives. Find vendors selling original artworks, jewelry, and other goods from the Islands inside the Caribbean Marketplace (600 Biscayne Blvd.; 305-237-7738). Play dominoes and puff on hand-rolled Cuban cigars in Little Havana. Maximo Gomez Park (Calle Ocho & 15th Ave.), is where to rub elbows with residents and learn the game. Or immerse yourself completely in a Florida that existed before anyone set foot here. No one knows the Everglades better than Clyde Butcher whose been photographing the swamps and the inhabitants of Big Cypress National Preserve for five decades. Join Clyde on his private tour, Everglades Excursion With Clyde Butcher (33100 Tamiami Trail East; 239-695-2428). Definitely more than a walk in the park.