"There is an ambiguity there because on the one hand you think, It's great that the war is over; it's great that there aren't car bombs every night and people are less afraid," Alarcón says. "And it's completely natural and in human nature to take that lack of imminent fear and celebrate it and be frivolous for a while."
But Alarcón worries that evils both past and present are being ignored in the name of prosperity. "It's ridiculous to talk about 7 or 8 percent growth [in Peru] and not talk about how much of that is actually illicit money that is being laundered, you know?" he says.
In that sense, Alarcón's novel is a warning — not only about Peru but also about places such as Miami, where gentrification is wiping out entire neighborhoods overnight. "The good times are [not only] a salve for the bad times but an erasure of the bad times and an erasure of history," he says. "That's what I'm worried about." (With NoViolet Bulaway and Ru Freeman on Saturday, November 23, at 12:30 p.m. in Building 8, third floor, room 8303. Admission is free.) Michael E. Miller
It's hard out there for a poet. Even for exceptionally talented writers of verse, it's rare to break into the realm of household names or bestselling books. There are only two paths to fame for poets: a U.S. poet laureateship or a gig reading at a presidential inauguration.
For Richard Blanco, it was the latter.
The Miami-raised, FIU-educated poet was tapped by President Obama to read at his inauguration in January, making Blanco the first immigrant and first Hispanic poet to have the honor. His poem "One Today" shared the White House stage with Beyoncé. To Blanco, the moment was both surreal and humbling.
"In your head, you think you're going to come down the steps and be announced, like 'The Poet!' " he says with a smile, recalling the reality: being shuttled from one media appearance to another in a congested and largely shut-down Washington, D.C. "I thought I was going to [read] and then just sit at the ball all night."
But he's not complaining. "I can't say that I don't love the attention. It's like any art, especially with poetry — for most of your life, you're recognized with your peers and there's a sense of connection in many ways that are very genuine and very powerful. But never at this scale."
Blanco is making the most of his newfound notoriety, bringing both Looking for the Gulf Motel, his latest collection of poems, as well as For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey, a poetic memoir about his experience as inaugural poet, to Miami Book Fair this year. He also helped Bostonians recover after the Boston Marathon bombing in April by reading his poem "Boston Strong" at a benefit concert and selling it in chapbook form, both to benefit the One Fund Boston.
"I'm just taking it all in and trying to see how I can turn this into some other element that does a greater good for a greater number of people," he says. (With Robert Pinsky and Campbell McGrath on Saturday, November 23, at 11:30 a.m. in the auditorium, Building 1, second floor, room 1261. Admission is free.) Ciara LaVelle
David Foster Wallace probably visited Florida for only one reason: to write his classic essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." According to biographer D.T. Max, Wallace wouldn't have cared for Central Florida tourist traps, the heartland's Middle American values, or Miami's superficiality.
"He had a writer's anxiety around pleasure," says Max, whose original New Yorker article about Wallace eventually grew into the Wallace biography Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story. "It wouldn't strike me as the first place he'd go if he were to have a vacation."
The notoriously private and agoraphobic Wallace railed against mind-numbing pleasures during his lifetime. The danger of overindulgence was one of the television, alcohol, and marijuana addict's great themes. Wallace wrote "Fun Thing" freshly sober, which meant he was forced to deal with what Max calls his "whirring mind" completely unadulterated. The essay, detailing his week aboard a luxury cruise ship departing from Fort Lauderdale, is characterized by an overwhelming sense of dread.
Wallace was less of a reporter and more of a self-described "giant eyeball" in the piece, which ended up being a meandering, dread-filled account of his time on board. But Max says Wallace's hatred of cruise ship culture wouldn't have necessarily extended to all of Florida.