Newberry writer will deliver book festival keynote

Sunshine State Book Festival keynote speaker Janis Owens
This weekend's Sunshine State Book Festival keynote speaker will be author Janis Owens. (Courtesy of Janis Owens)
Courtesy of Janis Owens

This weekend’s Sunshine State Book Festival features noted author Janis Owens as the keynote speaker, who will share some of her experiences as a writer in her talk Saturday.

This year’s festival, free to the public, opens with a reception from 7 – 9 p.m. on Friday followed by the main book event all day on Saturday, when attendees will be able to visit authors at their tables for conversation, book purchases and more.  

Both events take place at the Trinity United Methodist Church at 4000 NW 53rd Ave.

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Owens, who was born in Marianna but now lives in Newberry, has written four novels, a book of nonfiction and a memoir cookbook, “The Cracker Kitchen” with an introduction by Pat Conroy. Her latest book is an exploration of a time in north-central Florida that we might prefer to forget, “Hidden in Plain Sight: A History of the Newberry Mass Lynching of 1916.”

“I wrote it because I stumbled upon the story and started doing the research out of curiosity. The story I uncovered was so compelling, I just didn’t have any choice,” Owens said of that book.

Owens, a 1983 graduate of the University of Florida who studied under famed novelist Harry Crews, said when a topic captures her attention, she goes with it.

“I’m looking for things that interest me and if something comes up that really takes hold in my brain, I will write about it,” she said. “I have a variety of interests.”            

Bonnie Ogle is one of more than 150 writers who will be at the weekend’s Sunshine State Book Festival.
Courtesy of Bonnie Ogle Bonnie Ogle is one of more than 150 writers who will be at the weekend’s Sunshine State Book Festival.

The cookbook was a tribute to her mother. “As far as ease of writing and fun in producing it was ‘The Cracker Kitchen.’ It was before my mother passed. … I wrote a book that was a celebration of family. So it was a love project,” she said.

It didn’t hurt either that her friendship with Pat Conroy resulted in his introduction to that book.

Owens is not the only noted writer taking part in the festival. Some 150 authors will be there and over a third of them have won literary awards.

One of the most recent winners is Bonnie Ogle who earned the prestigious Royal Palm Literary Award in 2022 for her bilingual children’s picture book, “Miranda and the Golden Frogs/Miranda y las Ranas Doradas.’ 

A retired first grade teacher, Ogle has taught, loved, and written for children for over 40 years through her work in public schools, Scouts, church, and children’s programs at the Florida Museum of Natural History. 

“When I taught first grade, I wrote songs, plays, poems, raps for the kids to teach content in a fun way,” Ogle said. “My peers always said, “You should publish this!”

“Since I love frogs, that led to the middle grade novel, “Freaky Frogs,” which is peppered with frog jokes,” Ogle added. “That led to a book about frogs for young readers. The English/Spanish “Miranda and the Golden Frogs” teaches kids how frogs are in trouble all over the world, but in a way that won’t scare the little readers.”

Owens, the only daughter of a Pentecostal preacher turned insurance salesman, says she inherited her love of storytelling from her parents, something that is especially apparent in the cookbook.  Her novels include “My Brother Michael,” “The Schooling of Claybird Catts,” “Myra Sims” and “American Ghost.”

She also has one major tip for other writers – whether already published or on the way to doing so.

“I would say don’t let anyone talk you out of it and the more you write the better you write,” she said.

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