Q&A: O, Miami's P. Scott Cunningham

March 26, 2013 | by —LIANA LOZADA | Homepage


O, Miami executive director and co-founder P. Scott Cunningham 

Biennial poetry festival O, Miami makes its anticipated return on Monday, April 1, bringing with it a host of events that mix poetry with music, dance, and even a few films. One of the festival’s most anticipated special guests is poet and Miami-native Richard Blanco, who was recently honored as president Obama’s inaugural poet, reading his “One Today” at the inauguration ceremony. Other headliners include Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore, Megan Amram (who writes for Parks & Recreation), and Frank Báez, among others.  

In addition to nodding great poets of the present and past, O, Miami, produced by the University of Wynwood with support from the Knight Foundation, is creating a full-sensory cultural experience, recruiting the likes of New World Symphony, the Borscht Film Fest, and the Rhythm Foundation. Events will take place at multiple venues, including Books & Books Coral Gables, Lester's, The Freehand Miami, and O, Miami's host hotel, The Betsy South Beach. Here, we talk to O, Miami executive director and co-founder P. Scott Cunningham about what to expect. 

What would you say is O, Miami's anchoring event this year?
P. SCOTT CUNNINGHAM: I'd say Sunday, April 28 is the anchor, and specifically two events that happen that day. The first is the Poetry is Dead Parade at noon in Lummus Park on Miami Beach. Local students and cultural organizations will be ‘reanimating’ dead poets through performances at various stops on the parade route, and we're also inviting the public to come dressed as your favorite dead poet. You can also just show up in your regular clothes, though. Then at 7 p.m., we're hosting an evening of readings and performances at the New World Center Symphony hall. Inaugural poet Richard Blanco will read with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Megan Amram. 

How and when did Richard Blanco come onboard for this year’s festival?
PSC: I've known Richard since about 2005, when I started grad school at FIU. Inside the creative writing program he was already kind of a legend, because his thesis was published like four days after he finished it, which never happens. He was still in Miami then, working as a civil engineer, so I'd see him at parties and things and he was always the nicest, most humble guy. When his new book came out in 2012 he actually emailed me and asked to read at O, Miami this April. Of course I said yes . . . And then the news about the inauguration came out and everyone thought I was a genius for booking Richard six months before.

How has his success impacted the poetry community in Miami?
PSC: Obviously, Richard representing the United States as a gay, first-generation, bilingual immigrant cannot be underestimated. In Miami though, his appointment has added significance because he's not only from Miami, he represents Miami. When Richard read at the Arsht Center, a little girl stepped up to the mic during the Q&A and said essentially, ‘I want to be a poet like you.’ We could throw a thousand O, Miami's and never have that effect, so I'm very grateful to Richard for becoming the poet that children in Miami will look up to.

Why was it important to incorporate other art forms like dance and music into O, Miami's programming?
PSC: Emphasizing the connections between poetry and other genres is very important to us, because of how poetry tends to be treated as a discipline off by itself, with nothing to say to the modern world. By bringing performers from other genres to Miami who engage with poetry I hope we're changing those assumptions.

Tell us about the That’s So Miami contest.
PSC: [It’s] a partnership between O, Miami and WLRN-Miami Herald News in which we're asking people to write short poems that begin or end with the line, ‘That's so Miami.’ You can submit online or on Twitter using the hashtag #ThatsSoMiami. You can also submit Instagram photos of Miami with a poem below the photo with the same hashtag. We'll be publishing submissions daily on thatssomiami.tumblr.com, as well as reading our favorite poems on WLRN 91.3 FM. At the end of the month, we'll be collecting the best of the best into a book that we hope will create a portrait of our home that embraces its complexity.

How do you hope the festival will resonate outside of Miami?
PSC: Outside of South Florida, I hope that O, Miami is seen as both a democratizing force in poetry and a platform for poets who are willing to push the limits of their genre.  

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