Festival of Reading

This weekend, USF St. Petersburg hosted the annual Reader’s Nirvana, also known as the Festival of Reading. In the past years, the Festival has undergone a multitude of changes. Years ago, people headed to Eckerd College to see their favorite authors and buy their books, congregating in clusters on the grassy expanses between buildings on the liberal arts campus. A few years ago, though, organizers decided the festival had outgrown the sprawling campus and, in a move of logic understood only by city planners and mid-level managers, moved the festival to USF’s campus in downtown St. Petersburg. To fans of the festival, this means a shorter drive. To people that live and work around USF, it means closed streets and full combat parking.
But what does it mean for the authors? This year, the festival hosted celebrity author Martina Navratilova, Tampa-based columnist-turned-Florida-crime-humorist Tim Dorsey, and almost 70 other authors, and it seemed that USF didn’t quite know how to fit them all in between face painting, politicians reading children’s stories, and vendors selling used books in the main thoroughfare. Navratilova had a red velvert rope leading to her tent on 4th Avenue -and no shortage of fans to queue up for her autograph- so no one had any problem finding her. Other authors who lack a Wimbledon title and a six step diet plan didn’t get quite the same fanfare of closed streets, security with radios, and escorts from the St. Pete Times’ editors.
Tucked in just past the bookstore, Eliot Kleinberg waited for a smaller cadre of devotees to find him in Coquina Hall. While fans crowded around Navratilova, readers had to work to ferret out Kleinberg and many other authors.
Because of that, Kleinberg had time to discuss his books with most fans who approached him. Kleinburg, author of Weird Florida, Weird Florida II, and Black Cloud, chatted happily with fans, giving them more than the average signature and smile. Kleinberg writes for the Palm Beach Post and lives in south Florida. Although his most recent book, Weird Florida II, seemed the catalyst for his presence at the Festival, he spoke with fans about his older works, including his book about the hurricane of 1928, Black Cloud.
Klein explained that the 1928 hurricane, in a chilling foreshadowing of last year’s events, caused the levee at Lake Okeechobee to fail, flooding the surrounding area and killing many of the areas black migrant workers. Kleinberg discussed why he wrote the book and how he gathered information. He also spoke with readers about how his subjects affect him, including an anecdote about the police office on the cover of Weird Florida.
The Festival of Reading, which has undergone a metamorphosis over the past several years, included many draws for children as well as adults interested in specific books and authors. American Stage performed their school tour, Bunnicula, an adaptation of the children’s book. The Storyland Stage also hosted musicians and a costume parade. Pirates painted faces while other performers twisted balloons into animals. As always, some authors gave talks and signed their books.
While Kleinberg and other authors talked about publishing, writing, and their subjects with readers who navigated the map and found them in different rooms on the USF campus, Navratilova, Dorsey, and other celebrated authors signed books- only books they had written, only one autograph per person, and with very little discourse between readers and author.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.