On Florida's Literary Trail

By: Hilda Mitrani

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Literary events and festivals bring together literary fans and their favorite Florida authors.

Authors have found inspiration in Florida's coral shores and cool, deep springs for more than a century, and their legacy has bred a variety of literary festivals attended by avid readers and modern-day authors who call Florida home.
Authors and Events throughout Florida
Key West was home to the dean of 20th-century literature, Ernest Hemingway. An aficionado of fine food and big game fishing, Papa left us with a few good yarns and many six-toed cats lounging at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. More than 70 percent of his works were written here. “Papa” Hemingway’s image lives on too – literally – in the summertime festival that draws look-alikes each year.
This area, the southernmost point in the Continental United States, continues to draw serious writers and their devoted fans via the Key West Literary Seminar. The theme for the 31st annual Seminar, coming in January 2013, is Writers on Writers. It will feature some of the most innovative writers working today and an investigation of the relationship between life and art.

Fort Myers is the site of the Southwest Florida Reading Festival. The festival features nationally known, best-selling authors from all over the country. Past authors include Erik Larson, Nelson DeMille, David Baldacci, Dennis Lehane, Linda Lael Miller, Michael Palmer, Linda Fairstein, Heather Graham, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jeff Kinney, Ridley Pearson and R.L. Stein to name a few. Also, there will be activities and entertainment, e-library demonstrations, programs for kids and teens, a book for every child and a festival marketplace.
Other South Florida authors have had success on both the fiction and non-fiction fronts. Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan write “only-in-Florida” books that are loosely based on the zany characters they’ve encountered on the daily beat at The Miami Herald. Journalist Liz Balmaseda, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and current Palm Beach Post columnist, recently issued her first fictional work, Sweet Mary.
They’ve all been frequent readers at the Miami Book Fair International, a ten-day event held each November, and considered one of the finest literary festivals in the United States. Hundreds of author readings and a blocks-long Street Fair draw thousands of people to Downtown Miami. In 2009, the array of 250 authors included Orhan Pamuk, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and Al Gore. One wildly fun panel featured James Grippando and Heather Graham, both of whom live in and draw inspiration from South Florida. For the 2010 and 2011 fairs, they hosted over 300 authors from around the world, who read from their books in English, Spanish, French and Kreyol.
 
Grippando, a lawyer, sealed his personal verdict as an author of sixteen novels, including Born to Run. Heather Graham is a prolific author of more than a hundred works including several New York Times best sellers.
Books & Books, the mecca for authors in Florida, is an independently owned bookstore that hosts events nearly every day of the year at its Coral Gables flagship and its subsidiaries on South Beach and Bal Harbour. Its owner, Mitchell Kaplan, is a co-founder of the Miami Book Festival.
In the small town of Eatonville in Central Florida, African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston is remembered as a courageous and talented woman. Her literary legacy will again be honored at the 24th Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. She is still admired for her ability to create a character and convey the nuance of her era’s typical Southern, African-American dialogue with love and respect in works such as Their Eyes are Watching God.
Nearby, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings celebrated the natural beauty of her home in Cross Creek, the region that inspired her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel,The Yearling. Her home in a 74-acre orange grove is now a state park. She raised eyebrows for installing the first indoor plumbing, and also for her friendship with Zora Neale Hurston.
During the latter part of her life, Kinnan Rawlings lived in Saint Augustine, where the Florida Heritage Book Festival is an annual cultural highlight in September. Here in the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the United States, the Festival focuses on Florida history and cultural diversity. 
Farther north, the Amelia Island Book Festival, will be held February 17-18, 2012. In honoring a variety of writers, they’re following in the footsteps of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wintered with her family along the St. Johns River near Jacksonville. Before writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she wrote early promotional literature to lure Northerners to Florida.
And in that “other” town called Havana in North Florida, you’ll find a renowned children’s book author, Regina Lewis, author of The Smallest Toy Store and The Smallest Schoolhouse series. Living in nearby Tallahassee is Jan Godown Annino, author of Florida's Famous Animals: True Stories of Sunset Sam the Dolphin, Snooty the Manatee, Big Guy the Panther and Others.
All of these creatures have become part of Florida lore as has the real-life heroine from her most recent book, Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, the first woman Chief of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Betty Mae was also the first Seminole to graduate from high school.
Nearby in a tiny town called Capps is Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler, whose works have been translated into 19 languages. As a distinguished professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee, he is helping create a new generation of authors steeped in sunshine.  
Florida is a state filled with comedy and history, romance and mystery. Let’s just hope that Dexter doesn’t cross Alligator Alley to meet Hannibal Lecter, whose creator Thomas Harris (of Silence of the Lambs) lives in the Miami area. The only place these two should meet is the book club!
If You Go:
Key West Festivals – Jan. 5-8, 2012
Southwest Florida Reading Festival, Fort Myers – March 17, 2012 and March 16, 2013
Miami Book Fair International – Nov. 11-18, 2012
Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts, Eatonville – Jan. 26 - Feb.3 , 2013
Florida Heritage Book Festival, St. Augustine – Sept. 13-15, 2012
Amelia Island Book Festival – Feb. 17-18, 2012. Date for 2013 will be set soon.


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