Friend of the Month: Ana Veciana-Suarez

Ana Veciana-Suarez lived in South America as a young child but has called Miami home most of her life. The syndicated columnist and former Miami Herald features writer has been a journalist for nearly 40 years.

How did you first learn about Miami Book Fair?

I think anybody who’s interested in books and has lived here most of their life has heard about it. When it first started and it was small and no one believed that Miami could produce anything literary, it was a welcome find and a way of telling the world, “You’re wrong; look at what we have.” So I’ve always been aware of it and attend at least one day every year. For me it’s an event – I look forward to being there, attending the panels, running into people I know, and the food – and knowing that I’m with equally nerdy people [laughs] who like books, too, and who a lot of the time would rather stay home and curl up with a good book, it’s great.

How long have you been a Friend?

When I was at the Herald I was assigned to cover the writers presenting at the Fair and I thought that being a Friend was a gray area, from a journalistic integrity standpoint. It’s a fine line. But I joined about a year after leaving the paper. I don’t remember why it took me that long, but I do remember saying to myself, “What are you waiting for?” I wanted to put my money where my heart and beliefs are and support it. It’s been a few years now, and I’ve made it a point when we have Give Miami Day to contribute as well. I think we have to support the things we care for, not just by attending events but also by telling other people how you feel about the organization and, of course, with money.

What’s an MBF moment or memory that particularly resonates with you?

I tend to really like the programs that feature local authors, and by local authors I mean South Florida and Florida authors. I’m now old enough to see that we are producing a lot more incredible talent in the literacy circle, whether it’s a Patricia Engel or a Chantel Acevedo or an Edwidge Danticat. This last year I got to see Diana Abu-Jaber (MBF21 moderator), who wrote Fencing with the King; that was wonderful. I also got to see several of the writers who contributed work to Home in Florida, Anjanette Delgado’s anthology (MBF21 presenter). I sat in the back and just watched and said to myself, “I know so many of these people!” It makes me feel that we’re growing as a community of writers and readers and people who care about the written word.

But the funniest moment I had was a few years back. MBF used to ask local journalists and writers to introduce the visiting writers, and I was asked to introduce Karen Russell, a young writer who now lives out in California. When I met her on campus she said, “Oh my gosh! I remember reading you in the paper when I was a kid.” And I had this feeling of being really old! [laughs] But also of seeing this bright new star who’s now doing some incredible things with words. She writes about South Florida and Miami in such a unique way that captures all our quirkiness.

Is there an author with whom you were unfamiliar before seeing them at MBF, but whose work you began reading afterward?

I did; Madison Smartt Bell. I had heard his name but never read him, and I think it was a year that he appeared with Michael Chabon and like, three powerhouse guys. And there are always some Evenings With where you see writers who are incredible with words but also such great orators. I remember seeing Tom Wolfe and thinking “Wow, this guy can not only write, he can really weave a story.”

What was the last great book that you read?

There are a few. Fencing with the King, which is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Lauren Groff’s Matrix, which is a historical novel and really interesting, especially how she recreated this world out of probably not a lot of [resource] material. There’s also Gabriela Garcia’s Of Women and Salt.

Which book did you go back to again and again when you were a child?

I clearly remember reading Chicken Little as a young child, and the reason why I do is because it was the first book I read completely in English. I was so proud of myself!

Do you Book Fair solo or with a friend?

Usually I take my husband. He sometimes has his own things that he wants to see which aren’t always mine, but if there are two programs happening at the same time that I’m interested in, I always want to send him to one of them as sort of my emissary. [laughs] Then he needs to report back to me. I want to know who was there and what they said, because part of Book Fair is who you run into – your friends, people you work with …

This past year MBF was presented as a hybrid in-person/virtual event. What was the best thing you saw?

Something that I especially enjoyed  – focusing again on local writers – was Anjanette Delgado’s conversation with Patricia Engel (MBF21 presenter) in Doral at one of the MBF satellite events. I did a short profile on Engel for the Herald some years back and have sort of followed her career ever since. So seeing her with Anjanette was seeing the arc of a young writer’s career and how it has blossomed, which was wonderful. And it got me out of Kendall!

If you could see anyone at MBF, who would that be and why?

Gosh, I’d love to see Hilary Mantel. I’ve read her trilogy on Thomas Cromwell and with the wonders of Zoom I saw her at Books & Books, but I’d love to see her in person. I’m truly in awe of how she recreated this man and this whole period of time so vividly. Whenever I stopped reading at any point in her three books, I almost needed to shift my eyes and ears to get back to the present time. Her writing is so absorbing; it’s like a time machine.

You’re stranded on a deserted island – which three books would keep your spirits up and save your sanity?

That’s hard, but I definitely want to say Chicken Little, because it would remind me of my childhood and how sometimes we’re thinking the worst and it’s maybe not as dire as you think. I admire Ann Patchett and Anne Tyler but I’d find it hard to pick just one of their books. They both write their characters with such great empathy – even the annoying ones. I don’t know what they’re like in real life, but they seem to be people that you’d want to be friends with. And probably anything by Dave Barry. His zingers are always like, whoa! Just something to keep me alive while I’m eating coconuts.


Interview by Elisa Chemayne Agostinho.

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