It’s that time of year again for the Writers Alliance of Gainesville (WAG) to host its Sunshine State Book Festival to bring writers and readers together in a two-day event.
This year’s festival, free to the public, opens with a reception from 7 – 9 p.m. on Jan. 27 followed by the main book event all day on Jan. 28, 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.
“We hold the festival to support writers, give them a platform to showcase their work and give people a chance to connect with writers so people will come to read these books,” said committee chair Pat Caren.
Authors are donating books to be given away in drawings throughout the day. WAG and its 200 members have done a lot to make people aware of how much of a writing community Gainesville has become.
“As the festival has grown, so has our reach. Authors are coming from all over the country to Gainesville to participate in the festival,” said committee member Richard Gartee.
When WAG began holding the festival in 2020, 75 authors signed up. This year, the number has doubled to nearly 150, with 91 authors still on a waiting list.
“If we had more room, we could have served more people,” Caren said.
In a group interview, committee members spewed out the names of well-known writers associated with Gainesville including Robert Frost, Harry Crews, Lauren Goff, Jack Davis, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cynthia Barnett, and William Bartram.
“We came to the realization that Gainesville is probably the literary center, certainly the literary cultural center of Florida,” Gartee said. “There is an artistic and cultural force driving things in Gainesville that you don’t find in other cities.”
Caren said WAG doing what it can to bring attention to the written word.
“We have music in Gainesville, we have art festivals,” she said. “We needed a literary festival to even things out.”
On Saturday, authors will read from their books in half-hour presentations starting at 10 a.m. When the readings conclude at 4 p.m., there will be an Other Worlds panel discussion with science fiction and fantasy authors.
There will also be storytelling for kids by children’s book authors that will kick off at 10 a.m. and conclude at 5 p.m.
“There will be storytelling every half hour and activities for kids,” said award-winning children’s author and illustrator Bonnie Ogle, coordinator of the children’s area.
A special lure for high school students and their teachers is an essay contest on building a believable fantasy or sci-fi world. Ten winners will be awarded $100 scholarships, courtesy of Steve Spurrier’s HBC Foundation. English teachers of the 10 winning students will each receive a one-month membership to Gainesville Health and Fitness.
The Alachua County School Board approved the essay contest for students from 9th to 12th grade. Essays will be accepted until the day of the festival, but early submission is best via a tab on the festival web page.
“The topic is world building to go along with the world building discussion panel,” said WAG President Jenny Dearinger. “Building the next generation’s love of writing is important to current writers and the way to do it is to reach out to youth through the school systems and to keep nurturing the upcoming generations.
The festival website, https://www.sunshinestatebookfestival.com has all the information attendees will need. It also includes a call for volunteers to help our all-volunteer staff on the days of the event. You can get more information about volunteering on our website as well.