Tra Publishing Shares the Joy of Holding a Book

The throughline between all of Tra Publishing's output is creating something beautiful.
Ilona Oppenheim is the mind behind Tra Publishing, a Miami-based book publisher.
Ilona Oppenheim is the mind behind Tra Publishing, a Miami-based book publisher. Photo by Nick Garcia
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In 2016, Ilona Oppenheim became a published author after releasing her cookbook, Savor. Seeing and feeling her written words inside of bound volume was reward enough for Oppenheim to keep putting out books, so she started Tra Publishing. Since its inception, the publisher has released 38 titles from its Design District headquarters.

Tra's catalogue focuses on three genres: art books, children's titles, and, starting this fall, cookbooks. For Oppenheim, the throughline between all of Tra Publishing's output is creating something beautiful. "We don't really do e-books. The physical experience of holding a book is very important to us, so we try to create beautifully crafted books."

Its first release, Intuitive Alphabet, came to fruition after Oppenheim caught Miami-bred artist Michele Oka Doner's art exhibit at the PĂ©rez Art Museum. For the book, Oka Doner compiled a collection of photographs of found sea shells, with each object representing a letter from the alphabet. The collaboration was so successful that Tra is releasing a second book by Oka Doner, A Seed Takes Root, next month. The new volume is an ode to the massive 95-year-old banyan tree in Miami Beach next to the Scott Rakow Youth Center with which the author grew up and is currently fenced off.

However, Tra Publishing's scope isn't only centered around South Florida, with books from authors from across the globe. "The Unfortunate Life of Worms is one of our quirkiest titles," says Jessica Faroy, Tra's publishing associate. "Italian artist Noemi Vola creates 260 pages of an existential crisis through a worm's eye view. And What's Hidden in the Sky is a collaboration with an artist from Spain who does all these intricate drawings of the cosmos. It shows the constellations and the animals that inspired the names of the constellations."

Oppenheim is especially excited by its release by Japanese artist Katsumi Komagata, A Place Where the Stars Rest. "It really revolutionizes kid's books. It revolutionizes how the paper can help convey a narration," Oppenheim says about the 30-page story on the nature of stars, with each page having the text written in English, French, and Japanese.
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Tra art director Jefferson Quintana and publishing associate Jessica Faroy
Tra Publishing photo
Although Tra is open to contributions regardless of location, it has also focused on publishing local works. Locust Projects: The 20th Anniversary Retrospective is a 360-page look into two decades' worth of work from the nonprofit exhibition space, which recently moved from its longtime home in the Design District to the edge of the Little River district. This year also sees the release of Seeing Differently: Miami Color Theory, which Faroy described as "Laura Peresky Gould showcasing the vibrant beauty of Miami architecture through engaging lessons about seeing and art."

With its Tra Eats cookbook imprint, the publisher aims to combine the international with the regional. Good Soup: 52 Colorful Recipes for Year-Round Comfort features recipes from Michelin-star Dutch chefs Salumist Samuel Levie and Joris Bijdendijk. Tra is partnering with the local women's shelter Lotus House to celebrate the book's release by providing pumpkin soup the day before Thanksgiving, with a portion of the proceeds from November sales being donated to the shelter.

Next year, it will release Lelani Lewis' Code Noir: Afro-Caribbean Stories and Recipes. The cookbook is unique in that every recipe will detail how colonial oppression influenced each dish.

Currently, all of Tra's releases are available for purchase online via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and its website, and through its distribution deal with Simon & Schuster, you can purchase its books at most conventional bookstores as well as Walmart or Target.

Still, Tra hasn't forgotten its hometown. In November, it will have a booth at the Miami Book Fair and hold book launches at Books & Books and libraries throughout Miami-Dade.

"We want to keep the focus not just on Miami creators but also Miami readers," Faroy says.

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