News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Which parts of The Skinny Years are real?

The Skinny Years is set in Miami during the stormy 1960s. Since I grew up in the same place and time, a number of readers have asked, "Which parts of the novel are real?"

The characters in The Skinny Years are composites of friends, enemies, neighbors and schoolmates from my adolescence. A few real-life experiences of my own are woven into the story as well. (However, I am not the main character, Skinny, as anyone who knows my personal history can attest.) The result is a mashup of the real and the imagined, from the past and from the present, concocted into a narrative that's hopefully interesting. In other words, it's fiction. But a lot about the era and the area in the novel are very real.

Miami's skyline in the sixties
All of the South Florida geographic details in the book are accurate: the neighborhoods, the streets and causeways, the schools, even the bus lines. Many have changed since the sixties, however. The areas most transformed are South Beach and Wynwood, the neighborhood where much of the novel takes place.

South Beach was once a backwater appendix to Miami Beach dubbed "God's waiting room" because of its many retirees lingering near death. It was also a surfing hangout for local teens. Today, as everyone knows, South Beach is a hip and vibrant district for the hard body set.

Below is a view of South Beach as I remember it back in the day. The stretch of coast between the pier and the jetties are the setting for several scenes in the book.
The original "South Beach" of the 1960s
In the novel, Skinny's neighborhood of Wynwood is described as "a low-rent area where the cooks, cabbies, mechanics, and maids whose labor greased Miami’s tourism machine rested their heads and raised their kids." Today, the area is called The Wynwood Arts District. Visit my old neighborhood now and you'll find a collection of trendy art galleries, antique shops, bistros and a few luxury high-rises. In fact, Wynwood now bills itself as "the go-to place for an alternative and more cultural nightlife in the City of Miami." Some have called it the South Beach of the mainland. Nearly fifty years later, color me stunned.
Wynwood today
Other Miami areas included in The Skinny Years are Liberty City and Overtown. These are still predominantly African-American neighborhoods. I'm happy to say Overtown is making strides toward a renaissance of the post-war area when it was a hotbed of commerce and entertainment.

The sixties were a turbulent time. Anyone who lived through the era will remember some of its most vivid milestones: the Cuban Missile Crisis... the Civil Rights movement... the dawning of the youth counterculture... In Miami, these events were especially intense. The Skinny Years offers an intimate, Latin-flavored perspective into this social history.

If you have specific questions about the novel, its characters and events, please contact me directly. I will answer you privately to avoid spoilers for those who have not read the book.

I look forward to hearing from you.

You can find more about The Skinny Years here.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

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