Virtual Sunshine State Book Festival winding down

The Writers Alliance of Gainesville booth at the 2020 Sunshine State Book Festival. This year's event was virtual, but organizers are planning to return to an in-person event in 2022.
The Writers Alliance of Gainesville booth at the 2020 Sunshine State Book Festival. This year's event was virtual, but organizers are planning to return to an in-person event in 2022.

The countdown is almost up. This year’s virtual Sunshine State Book Fair ends in 12 days on June 30. After that, the website and its vault of bookish gold will disappear.

Over 90 local and international authors joined the second annual festival, creating short, individual videos for each writer’s virtual booth. From a Pulitzer Prize winner to local authors, visitors can learn about the writers and their work.

Videos range from a few minutes for the majority of writers to over half an hour for the festival’s featured writers like E. Stanley Richardson, poet laureate of Alachua County, and New York Times bestselling coauthors Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones.

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Jess Elliott, president of the Writer’s Alliance of Gainesville (WAG) that produces the festival, said this year’s virtual event was wildly ambitious. She gave credit to Richard Gartee, a WAG member, who came to Elliott and said he was able and willing to construct an online festival page.

WAG gave the green light to the virtual fair with only 6 months to prepare.

“Writer’s are not techy people,” Elliott said. But with some guidance, WAG was able to upload 94 videos for the event.

The feedback, Elliott said, has been great, both from authors and viewers. Plus, with the festival located online, people can share it with others in a way you can’t share a physical festival.

A few weeks ago, the site had totaled around 4,000 visits from its launch at the end of January.

“I’m wildly proud of it,” Elliott said. “I think it’s a huge endeavour, especially to pull off in six months.”

For visitors just finding the festival, Elliott recommended Dr. Tom Wiggins’ videos and book Disabled Leadership. But she said it depends on the person and what they like.

“Shop around; go spend some time; get a snack and sit and watch some videos,” Elliott said. “Find some new books because there’s an amazing array of stuff out there.”

The Sunshine State Book Festival started as an outcropping of WAG and the number of writers already in the area.

A few years ago, members of WAG wondered why they always had to travel to attend writer’s events. With the Thornburg Art Festival and Downtown Art Festival, Elliott said the Gainesville area is known as a center for visual artists, but authors and books are often not included in that sphere.

“We’ve been kinda overlooked as being a hub for writers,” Elliott said, despite the many writers in Gainesville and Alachua County.

WAG launched the Sunshine State Book Fair last year at Sante Fe College, bringing 75 authors and over 3,000 readers together. Of those authors, 41 were from Alachua County and many others live in other parts of Florida.

Elliott said next year’s festival is in the planning stages, with no set location yet. But it will be in-person and include as much diversity of genres and authors as this year’s virtual edition.

“Face-to-face, January 29, 2022, come out and meet people; find your new favorite book,” Elliott said.

Overhead view of the 2020 Sunshine State Book Festival

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