Originally published By Jonel Juste on Le Floridien
The famous Haitian bookstore and cultural junction point in Miami, Libreri Mapou, reopened its doors last May after 14 months of shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Libreri Mapou has reopened since May 1 to the great satisfaction of readers, writers, and art lovers in the Haitian community. This month was purposely chosen, according to bookstore owner Jean-Marie Willer Denis aka Jean Mapou.
“We chose May because it’s a time for so many celebrations in Haiti and the Haitian community in Miami”, he indicated. “First, May is the Haitian Heritage Cultural Month in Miami. In Haiti, May 1 is Labor and Agricultural Day, May 18 is Flag and University Day; let’s not forget Mother’s Day that Haitians celebrate twice. Finally, May is considered a month of renewal”.
This is definitely a renewal for the bookstore, which is one of the landmarks of Little Haiti alongside the Caribbean Marketplace and the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. Libreri Mapou, which is home to Sosyete Koukouy, is the place in Miami to find newspapers, books, souvenirs, and art crafts from Haiti.
For more than a year, the bookstore shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some had feared it would definitely close as it is the case for many businesses in Miami. However, with the vaccination campaign reducing the number of cases and deaths, and the relaxing of restrictions, the owner of Libreri Mapou decided it was time to come back.
“We open by following the CDC guidelines. We receive three people at a time and patrons must wear masks and be socially distancing”, stated Jean Mapou.
“For now, the literary clientele is coming back, some authors have contacted us to drop off books”, said Mapou hoping for better days and a return to normalcy.
The bookstore opens every day except Sunday and Monday, from 12pm-5pm. Libreri Mapou is located in the heart of Little Haiti at 5919 N.E. Second Ave.
30 years of Libreri Mapou
The Haitian bookstore opened on April 7, 1990, inside the Caribbean Marketplace. At first, it was not a bookstore but a mini library, a place where people in the community, university students could come and consult books about Haiti, reminds the author and drama writer Jean Mapou.
“We had a couple of books about Haitian history, literature, religion etc; this library was a way to silence some people who’d say that Haiti had no literature, no culture, that Haitians were illiterate”, declared Mapou.
In 1992, things changed inside the Marketplace and the small library had to find another location. Fortunately, Jean Mapou was offered a new home that was once a store. “The store was closing down, and the owner was moving to New York; so, he proposed to me the place where we are now”.
Some time later, the writer Max Manigat who had a library in New York, came down to Miami with all his books and donated them to Libreri Mapou, and that’s how the bookstore took off. For the record, the writer Dany Laferrière was the one to baptize the bookshop, revealed Jean Mapou.
Notice that the name of the bookstore is written in Creole. Libreri Mapou literally means the Mapou Bookstore. The reason behind the creole spelling lies in the commitment of the owner to advocate for the Haitian creole language. The Haitian creole literature section of the bookstore is indeed well stocked.
It has been 30 years that Libreri Mapou has been serving the community. The secret for lasting so long? “It’s because we love what we do, because of the love for the Haitian culture and literature, for the Creole language”, answers Jean Mapou.
May 15, Mapou Day
During an official ceremony on May 15, 2021, Miami-Dade County’s Mayor, Daniella Levine Cava honored Jean-Marie Willer Denis by declaring May 15 “Jan Mapou Day” in Miami. “You’ve done so much to lift up the voices”, she continues while presenting to Mapou a Lifetime Recognition Award for his work in the community.
Author, playwright, director, and arts advocate, Jean Mapou was one of the founders of the Mouvman Kreyòl Ayisyen (Haitian Creole Movement). He also co-founded Sosyete Koukouy, a multi-disciplinary arts company dedicated to preserving Haitian cultural traditions and rituals.
Owner of Libreri Mapou in Little Haiti, he also hosts two radio programs on education and culture on WLRN Public Radio and has served on numerous boards, including the Miami Book Fair International. He is also the co-founder of the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance. In 2007, he was the recipient of the Folk Life Award from the State of Florida.
The latest award from Miami-Dade County is seen by the recipient as a form of incentive. “We don’t always find the support we need, we often struggle, but seeing our work recognized, knowing that we are helping the youth and the community gives us the courage to go on,” declared Mapou.
During the pandemic, Jean Mapou confesses he wasn’t inactive. He took the advantage of the free time he had to write three books including an autobiography.