Since its creation three short years ago, the annual Jax Book Fest, hosted at the Jacksonville Public Library, has managed to attract thousands of eager literature enthusiasts. Activities vary from year to year, but the same underlying theme remains: a celebration of reading and literacy.
Attending author Dr. Chris Gabbard notes that “other cities like Savannah and Miami have book festivals [that] contribute a lot to the cultural life,” and so in joining Jax Book Fest, he hopes to “support and help foster” the unique North Florida culture.
The same goes for fiction author Kaitlyn Legaspi, who urges guests to come experience the “very active [reading and writing] community.”
Chris Boivin, Assistant Director at the library, says that guests can expect quite a full afternoon.
“There will be more than 80 local authors throughout the Main Library sharing and selling their books with the crowd,” Chris says, “and San Marco Books [will] set up a pop-up bookstore in the Main Library. So, people can buy books from the keynote authors to have them signed, buy books from many of the local authors, and complete their literary experience by taking home something new and different.”
New York Times Bestselling author and History Channel’s TV host Brad Meltzer is one of the many authors in attendance this year. Along with young-adult-fiction author Neal Shusterman, and New York Times Bestselling author Karma Wilson.
Boivin encourages fans of Brad Meltzer to check out the fundraiser happening on Friday night, where guests “have the opportunity to meet Brad and have a book signed by him.”
Perhaps one of the most anticipated annual events, Boivin says, is the kickoff of the Tenikka’s Books for Kids program. Action News Jax anchor Tenikka Hughes hosts this book drive that gifts new books to children who meet their reading goals at the library. Boivin notes the importance of the partnership in how it “makes a huge difference to the library and Jacksonville’s kids by helping the library stretch it’s funding to make summer programming even more fun.”
Tenikka will join guests at the event, collect books, and lead a Drop Everything And Read session for children.
Speaking of children, Jax Book Fest also hosts a number of events targeted to activate the imagination of youngsters. Boivin says that the library will have “balloon twisters, face painters and animal shows from Wild Wonders and from MOSH.”
Local elementary school teacher and author Melody Pendlebury encourages her students to attend the event, telling parents that “if you can help nurture a love for reading, you are enabling children to have a love for knowledge and life.”
Pendlebury never pictured herself becoming an author, but she grew to learn that “anyone can be a writer and being passionate about books has nothing to do with skill level.” She hopes that through the festival, children “decide that they want to start writing too and just dive in without worrying if anyone will ever read it or if it ever gets published.”
The fun doesn’t stop there, though. Jax Book Fest gives both published and aspiring authors the chance to connect. Published authors can share their experience with the publishing world, and aspiring authors can build relationships with Jacksonville readers. In fact, Boivin says that the library “sincerely values [the] opportunity to connect local authors with local readers.”
Author and Jacksonville native Amanda Mahan says she looks forward to “meet[ing] local authors, learn[ing] about their writing process, and explor[ing] the many avenues writers take to have their work published.” And since there will be over 80 listed authors attending, there are plenty of chances to learn the tricks of the trade.
Stella May, a visiting author for the festival, says that although she “love[s] the absolute loneliness of the process of writing,” she looks forward to “meet[ing] some other local authors and introduc[ing] [herself] to the community.”
Guests have the opportunity to attend workshops that provide important information on publishing and self-publishing. Award-winning author Laure Lee Smith will lead a workshop this year, and Boivin says that guests should look forward to “hearing her insights/feedback that can help [their work] move from the pen to the shelf.”
So, with all this in mind, still contemplating whether or not to make the drive over to the library? Well, as Boivin beautifully put it: “Reading completes us. Whether you’re a child just learning to read, a student reading to learn, a parent reading to bond with your children, a professional looking to advance your career, a first responder reading to keep balance in your life, a senior citizen reading to keep growing and learning, or someone looking to explore new choices and experiences, reading can close all of those gaps. We hope that Jax Book Fest fires up that passion for reading in our community.”
Jax Book Fest takes place on Saturday, February 29 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, visit jaxpubliclibrary.org.