Rudy Fernandez is the executive vice president for external affairs and strategic initiatives and chief of staff at the University of Miami. He and his wife, Jennifer – they met when both were working at UM; she’s since moved on to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital – have four children, twin teenage daughters and two young sons.
Are you a Miami native?
No, but I’ve called Miami home since I was 10 years old. I was born in Caracas, Venezuela, to Cuban parents and moved to Miami almost – well, I’m 49 now, so, 40 years ago.
How did UM come to be involved with Miami Book Fair?
Miami Dade College reached out to us a few years ago to get us involved as a sponsor. We’re big supporters of MDC and believe in Miami Book Fair as an event. At its core, it’s intended to promote reading and literacy – and to support talented writers – and it’s one of the things that enhances the cultural aspects of our community. I always joke around with my friend Dr. Maryam Borrego, who’s the vice president for external affairs and the chief of staff to the college president, Madeline Pumariega, that if Miami Dade College ever let go of the Fair, we would gobble it up because it’s one of those signature events in Miami, like Art Basel. Miami Book Fair is a very, very cool event. We’re very selective about how we use the dollars in our community budget because we’re a nonprofit, and we’re very proud to be associated with Miami Book Fair and proud to support it.
Why is supporting cultural institutions like the Fair so important?
Supporting the humanities and culture is part of what makes a community vibrant. The more you enjoy the arts and reading, the more you realize that we’re all a part of the human experience. I find great peace in reading, and I did so especially during the pandemic when we were so isolated from outside contact. I started reading a lot more about Stoicism and Stoic philosophers – like Marcus Aurelius and Seneca – and I found comfort in the fact that thousands of years ago people were dealing with issues very similar to the ones you and I face today. I think in reading that you find a way to connect and find wisdom and empathy, and we as a community should support things that strengthen the soul.
As a parent and as someone who is deeply committed to strengthening and furthering the mission of an educational institution, what are your personal thoughts on access to literary culture?
I think access is incredibly important, and I give great credit to my wife, who cultivated at a very early age within our children a love of reading. Cultivating that habit in kids – or in adults – is important in furthering human understanding and connections. And events like Book Fair are spaces that foster and encourage that.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading two books. I’ve always got one going on Audible, because I’m on the treadmill, I’m on the elliptical, and I find [listening to a book] helps me stay focused on the workout. And then I have one on the Kindle. On Audible right now it’s The Quiet Americans. That’s about four of the key figures in the founding of the CIA, and the story starts at the end of World War II. The British had MI5 and MI6, and a lot of the other leading countries involved in the war had very established intelligence services, but the U.S. lacked one. I love history, I love biographies, and this is a period that I find intriguing. On Kindle it’s Grit, by Angela Duckworth. People tend to think that success has to do with inherent talent, genetic talent, but the reality and study after study will tell you it’s about deep practice, and the ability to be resilient and stick to something. If you fail at something 200 times you gotta try it 201 times, and that’s the key to becoming excellent at any particular endeavor. The book is fascinating.
It’s your fantasy dinner party and you can choose to sit down with any three authors of your choosing, living or dead – who are you breaking bread with and why?
I really like this question –
And this is going to be an eclectic group of people. I’d invite Ernest Hemingway, for the South Florida and the Cuba connection. The Old Man and the Sea is a book I’ve read a few times; I’m the son of Cuban Americans but I’ve never visited the island. And Hemingway seems like he’d be a phenomenal dinner companion. Then Michael Lewis; I’ve read so many of his books, starting with Liar’s Poker and The Blind Side, and I just enjoy his writing a great deal. And then Salman Rushdie. A few years ago I read The Golden House – it was my first Rushdie book – and after I read it I was like, wow, no wonder he’s so revered. His sentences are better than seeing a photograph.
Interview by Elisa Chemayne Agostinho.
Responses edited for space and clarity.