Miami Literary Spice

From left to right: Professor Osamudia James, Associate Professor Chantel Acevedo, author Jennine Capó Crucet, and Marisol Capellan, program manager of the SEEDS program.
By Michael R. Malone

From left to right: Professor Osamudia James, Associate Professor Chantel Acevedo, author Jennine Capó Crucet, and Marisol Capellan, program manager of the SEEDS program.

Miami Literary Spice

By Michael R. Malone
Novelist Jennine Capó Crucet’s Miami-spiced book talk spotlighted the One Book, One U initiative.

Hialeah born-and-raised author Jennine Capó Crucet entertained a standing-room-only audience in the Shalala Student Center Senate Room on March 20 reading “Miami-spiced” segments from her novel Make Your Home Among Strangers, the UM’s designated 2018-19 One Book, One U common book.

Capó Crucet, who recently earned an associate professorship at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, described the book as a “fictional roadmap of the first-generation college experience.”

“Freshmen need a special skill set which, against tremendous odds, allows them to just get to college,” she said. “Those skills, which reflect different backgrounds and different trajectories, are really a benefit for any campus. They need to be shared.”

Creative Writing Professor Chantel Acevedo, who has spearheaded the One Book, One U initiative together with Osamudia James, vice dean and professor in the School of Law, welcomed Capó Crucet and the opportunity that the book—which tackles issues of identity, belonging, and separation from home—offered.

“We’re at college, we read. How wonderful that we get to have a common conversation over a book,” said Acevedo, herself a novelist.

Capó Crucet’s appearance anchored a series of common-book events offered through One Book, One U, an initiative sponsored by the SEEDS (A Seed for Success) program, the English Department, Creative Writing Program, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Law, and the Office of Institutional Culture, among others.  

The novel’s Cuban-American protagonist Lizet leaves family, friends, and lovers behind to attend a prestigious New England college school; the setting rotates between Miami and the bitter cold North. The winner of the international Latino Book Award for Best Latino-Themed Fiction and a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, the novel has been chosen by multiple universities as a common book because of its pertinent themes for students.

“I can’t always read these parts, but you guys will get this because you’re from Miami,” Capó Crucet joked with the audience, which included her mother, father, sister and “nieta.”

The author read for an hour, interacting with the audience to encourage them to turn pages, stretch, or chiding them—in good humor—for slipping out early. The first reading passage centered on a comical scene between Lizet and boyfriend Omar, triggered after a back-seat sexual romp late at night on a golf course. The young lovers funnel into confusion when Omar asks if Lizet is “ready to leave”–to go home? Or to leave Miami and her family behind? Their spat ends abruptly when the two realize Omar’s car is stuck in the golf-course “rough.”

Capo Crucet lauded the benefits of a literary degree to the many aspiring writers who attended her talk.

“A literary degree teaches you how to think, and gives you the capacity to put complex ideas together,” she said. It gave her the confidence to secure her first job, working with a nonprofit in Los Angeles, a scenario that helped fuel her writing and eventually the publication of Make Your Home Among Strangers and other works.

The selection of a common book was designed to spur conversation around relevant current themes, and a number of departments and schools offered related events to expand that conversation. A few events remain.

UM Libraries hosts the Youth, Families, Acculturation and Adjustment colloquium with lunch on March 30. The Honors Students’ Association Sigma Tau Delta on April 12 hosts A Novel Discourse: Make Your Home Among Strangers at the Shalala Center and the O, Miami Poetry Festival 2018 sponsors Before It Sinks Into the Sea: Micro-Elegies for Miami, a writing exercise at The Rock on April 19.