Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading: Read, think, learn, grow

I love books.

I am a self-professed nerd. I love books, bookstores and libraries. Books have the power to transport and entertain. The power of the written word cannot be diminished; hence a celebration of books is vital for our tech/text/tweet society, in my humble opinion.

For someone like me, the 26th Annual Tampa Bay Times Reading Festival was a Godsend. The Nov. 17 festival drew more than 5,000 of us who enjoyed the day at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Bibliophiles from all over the region came to indulge their senses–words, books, thoughts, poetry and prose.

Spread out over the entire campus, there was a continual flow of family-friendly activities. More than 70 authors and 50 vendors participated in this free event. The day started at 10 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m., and that was not enough.

There were opportunities to listen to local and national authors read and discuss their work, encompassing a wide range of topics from political fact-checking to the rebuilding of Puerto Rico to erotica by women.

Ladee Hubbard was on hand with her first novel “The Talented Ribkins.” Inspired by W.E. B. Du Bois’ famous essay “The Talented Tenth,” her story is set in Florida and is an imaginative tale about a family with themes of race, class and politics thrown in.

Hubbard is a professor of Africana Studies and creative writing at Tulane University. She studied English at Princeton before earning a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate in folklore and mythology from UCLA. Raised in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands, she is the 2016 recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award.

Also on hand was historian Deborah Plant, who is editor of Zora Neale Hurston’s last work “Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo,” a New York Times bestseller. Plant is an African American and Africana Studies independent scholar and literary critic specializing in the life and works of Zora Neale Hurston. Interestingly, she lives in Florida and is a co-founder of the University of South Florida’s Department of Africana Studies, chairing it for five years.

Her presentation was riveting. She shared the story of Oluale Kosolla’s (renamed Cudjo

Lewis) journey from capture and enslavement to freedom and the founding of Africatown as told to Zora Neale Hurston. She recounted his tale of loss, the horrors of the middle passage and chattel slavery.

USF Professor Raymond Arsenault gave a lecture on his book “Arthur Ashe: A Life,” and shared stories about the tennis icon and civil rights activist. This is the first comprehensive biography about Ashe.

Arsenault is the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History and Chairman of the Department of History and Politics where he has taught since 1980. He is one of the leading civil rights historians and the author of several books including “Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.”

Several authors I really wanted to hear but was unable to due to scheduling conflicts included novelist Tayari Jones, author of “Leaving Atlanta” and “An American Marriage,” an Oprah’s Book Club pick, and G. Neri, known for his work in young-adult fiction and his most acclaimed work to date, the graphic novel “Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty.”

Organizer of the event and Tampa Bay Times book critic Colette Bancroft accentuated the need for the festival.

“I think it brings readers together. It sort of validates for people their love of books is something they share with a lot of other people.”

The buzz around the festival was palpable. Eventgoers felt the festival was an excellent opportunity to expose young people to books versus computer screens, booksellers expressed that it was a great opportunity to meet authors and build an audience, while aspiring authors said it was the place to be to get inspiration, advice and information on the how-tos of writing and publishing.

I will definitely plan for this next year and hopefully bring more young people with me to enjoy and discuss. It’s never too early or late to stoke the imagination. Read, think, learn, grow. There is power in words.

For more information, contact Lara Shelton at 26thAnnualFestivalof Reading@gmail.com.

To reach Faye Tippy, email ftippy@theweeklychallenger.com

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