History of Queer Miami Snags Top Literary Honors

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Dr. Julio Capó Jr. Submitted photo.

Julio Capó Jr.’s new book, “Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami Before 1940” was recently named a finalist for a prestigious Lambda Literary Award.

The finalists, announced on March 6, were selected from nearly 1,000 submissions. Entries came from major mainstream publishers and from independent presses, from both long-established and new LGBT publishers, as well as from emerging publish-on-demand technologies.

Capó, a Miami native, graduate of Florida International University and former broadcast journalist with local affiliates WSVN and WPLG, is now assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He originally began studying history as a non-degree-seeking graduate student, but ultimately fell in love with the past.

“Having been a journalist gave me a great background for how to interview people and research and even how to archive,” Capó said, “bridging my two loves and my two experiences. It happened really serendipitously. I’m grateful, Miami has been a great home.”

Capó, whose research and teaching interests include the intersection of gender and sexuality with ethnicity, race and class in the Caribbean and Latin America, began researching the book while conducting post-doctoral studies at Yale University.

“I feel like so much of what we know about queer history has been very coastal—and big city coastal. We think of everything gravitating toward New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles,” he explained. “I knew Miami had very different origins and a history that was fascinating to me…it was a labor of love, not just personal for me. I’m gay, I’m Latino, I’m a Miami boy. This is a history that needs to be told.”

The queer community in fledgling Miami (founded in 1896) was influenced heavily by the cultures of the Bahamas, Cuba and Puerto Rico. As the city grew and matured, a sizeable gay community began to develop, fed by tourists seeking fun in the sun and in secluded drag clubs.

“A lot of queer folk carved out their own spaces, especially during the high tourist season. That’s what fueled much of the economy, it was the Las Vegas of the day. What happens in Miami stays in Miami.”

Ironically, Capó’s first book also made history in its own right. “Welcome to Fairyland” is the first in more than two decades to be awarded three separate awards by the Florida Historical Society in the same year: best scholarly book on a Florida history topic; best book relating to Florida's ethnic groups or dealing with a significant social issue from an historical perspective; and best book based on investigative research that casts light on historic Florida events in a manner that is supportive of human rights, traditional cultures, or the natural environment.

“I'm so incredibly humbled, honored, and grateful,” Capó said.

He’s currently working on a history of the Pulse nightclub massacre and a companion volume chronicling gay history in Miami post-1945. Capó also continues to contribute to Time magazine, the Miami Herald and Washington Post.

The winners of the Lambda Literary Awards will be announced at a gala ceremony on Monday, June 4 in New York City. “Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami Before 1940” (University of North Carolina Press) is available for purchase ($29.95) or download ($9.99) at Amazon.com.


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