Like many Miami writers, Jaquira Díaz’s work reflects on a Miami of yesteryear — her version was an art deco slum overrun by drug lords and gang violence, a scene that’s a stark contrast to the high-end shopping malls and luxury condominiums that define Miami Beach today. “On our block we had buildings that were abandoned, shoot offs in the street, fights and people being stabbed,” the author recalls. “But even though we were in danger, I remember it with fondness, believe it or not. When I write about Miami, I always think about old Miami Beach.”
Díaz arrived in Miami from her native Puerto Rico when she was just eight years old, as her father tried to escape his drug-dealing past, and her adolescence marked by frequent moves — her father was a man “that just couldn’t settle down.” Díaz bounced from South Beach to North Beach, from Hialeah to Kendall, in the span of just a few years. She continued the tradition well into her adult years — after 10 years of hopping around cities across the country, Díaz is back in the Magic City, currently living in Miami Beach’s Normandy area. But her Miami is no longer there: the shabby pastel buildings have been transformed into boutique art deco hotels, and Lincoln Road’s mom-and-pops have been replaced by major retailers like The Gap and Urban Outfitters.
“When I got back I spent a little bit of time walking around Lincoln Road and seeing my old elementary school, Española Way, and all those areas on the Beach, and it feels like its not really my neighborhood,” she says. “I see it differently because it’s changed so much, but I feel like I’m kind of writing my way to find that old Miami, the Miami of my childhood.”
Díaz, who’s taught at The Center for Literature and Theatre @ MDC, is currently writing a memoir that reflects on her sordid teenage years on South Beach, and is in the final stages of editing a novel about forgotten juvenile delinquents coming of age on the streets. And while writers everywhere use their situational experiences to inform and provide a setting for their work, writing about Miami adds an additional richness because the city is so rapidly changing. Character stories are laced with themes like immigration, disenfranchisement, gentrification, and hedonism, the hallmark of a city as diverse and chaotically complex as Miami.
The depth of possibility when writing on Miami inspired Díaz to take the reins on 15 Views of Miami, an anthology of fictional short stories as told by 15 authors who live (or once lived) in Miami. The collection 15 Views of Miami is part of Burrow Press’s 15 Views series, an annual anthology of stories that depicts loosely linked portraits of a Florida city. The series gives authors a template: one author sets the sequence in motion, and the fourteen authors that follow must set their stories in a new location, and link their story to one of the previous stories by something as concrete as a character or as insignificant or abstract as an object or metaphor. It’s the editor’s job — in this case, Díaz’s — to compile the stories and find the writers for the job.
“I had to solicit everyone, so I went out and I reached out to 15 different Miami writers, writers that I thought would represent different neighborhoods and different points of view and different writing styles,” she said. “The key was to have a big group of diverse writers who could put together one long book, this narrative of stories that’s essentially one story that depicts Miami, but that can also be read as specific Miami stories.”
The book 15 Views of Miami was produced over a 16-week period in 2012, while Díaz was based in Wisconsin. “The first writer wrote his story and then I took that story and I passed it on to the next writer, and I told them, take it, read it and you have a week to write it. Then I took those two stories and gave it to the next writer, and so on,” she said. “Every writer was very generous and excited about the project despite the time crunch, so I was lucky.”
Featuring established writers like Jennine Capó Crucet, Patricia Engel, and John Dufresne, 15 Views of Miami offers a sprawling portrait of Miami-Dade, from Homestead to Coral Gables to Hialeah, a complex web of stories keep the reader searching for clues and meaning around every corner. In 15 Views of Miami, we see our city for what it is — a place risen from the ashes by investment capital and developers, but defined by the stories of the people that ignited the flame.
“Some of the stories are very dark, some of them have a nostalgic feel, and by the time you get to the last one, which is a little quirky and off, you only get that humor because you’ve read all the other stories,” Díaz says.
If the goal was to paint a literary portrait of Miami’s profound uniqueness and shifting cultural identity, than Díaz succeeded. Each story is its own world, told by characters filled with longing for a Miami past a reader can’t help but relate to. “Everyone that’s read the book has told me that they have a favorite or a couple favorites, and I’m always surprised because they’re always different,” Díaz says.
“Culture is everything we do that we don’t have to,” the author of the last story writes. And 15 Views of Miami proves that our large and often misunderstood city is a product of the people who live in it, with lives just as complicated and complex as the city itself.