See me talk Freedom Riders, lynching and media's future Saturday at the Times Festival of Reading
There is no greater pleasure for someone who writes for a living than to visit an event like the Times Festival of Reading.
In my near-16 years at the St. Petersburg Times, I must have appeared at the festival over a half-dozen times, introducing notable authors such as Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl, former Meet the Press host Marvin Kalb, HLN anchor Jane Velez-Mitchell and actress Amber Tamblyn.
But the real fun of the festival is meeting the attendees; intelligent and open-hearted, they love literature and the written word in its many forms. This is the only large crowd outside of a newsroom where most people still get ink on their hands reading the newspaper every day, and they're also voracious, knowledgeable consumers of the best writers around.
That helps explain why I've committed my entire day Saturday to appearances at the festival, introducing two authors and making my own presentation at the day's end -- literally the last guy to speak at the event before they turn the lights out.
My day starts at 10 a.m., introducing my neighbor Julie Buckner Armstrong at the USF Science and Technology Center, talking about her new book, Mary Turner and the Memory of Lynching. Julie is a neighbor -- lives just a half block away from me in the city's Old Southeast neighborhood -- and a wonderful friend.
So it was gratifying and surprising to know that my buddy down the street had assembled such a compelling book on such a jarring subject -- tracing the reaction across a wide range of citizens to the brutal lynching of a pregnant woman near Valdosta, Ga. in 1918. Mary Turner was killed and had her baby ripped from her womb when she vowed to seek legal action against a mob of white people who had killed her husband -- himself swept up in a wave of lynchings following the murder of a white farmer.
Julie's stories of poring through acres of records on such brutal and senseless acts only made me respect her more as a friend and neighbor, especially after seeing the amazing book which resulted.
By 12:15 p.m., I'll be introducing another local writing giant, USF St. Petersburg professor Ray Arsenault, author of the blockbuster book on the brave biracial group who rode buses into the South to challenge segregation, Freedom Riders. He'll be appearing at the USF Campus Activities Center with freedom riders David and Winonah Myers, who live in Ellenton, and a producer of the PBS film based on the book, Laurens Grant.
Ray has seen his book lauded everywhere from National Public Radio to Oprah Winfrey's popular daytime talk show, with PBS assembling a documentary film based on his work which just won three Emmy awards. He was also nice enough to let me observe part of the wild ride following the book's publication, producing a story where I followed part of his tour with a handpicked group of college students recreating the original freedom rides earlier this year with some of the original riders on the event's 50th anniversary.
Click here to see a story on the book's popularity, with quotes from the Myers (that's David, in his booking photo after an arrest during the freedom ride, at left). Click here for the massive story in the Times' Floridian section on Ray's trip with the college students and the riders, based on two days following the group in Georgia, Alabama and Nashville. And click here for a blog post on a panel discussion Ray and I appeared on, featuring a freedom rider and several people connected to the civil rights movement.
Finally, I'll be giving a speech at 3:15 p.m. in the Poynter Institute's Naughton Pavilion with the lofty title: "Tyranny of the Broad Niche: How Social Media is Transforming Journalism and Modern Life."
It will be a bit of test drive for ideas I'll be exploring with more detail at Poynter's Tedx speakers event, and a look at my views on the future of media in a connected world. Please make a little time at the end of the day for a stop by my speech, too.
All this, and appearances by Connie May Fowler, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, Pulitzer winning former Times reporter and editor Tom French, former Times writer and editor Dave Scheiber and my fellow critics Sean Daly, John Fleming, Steve Persall and Colette Bancroft.
Gotta join us for an amazing day devoted to literature and great reads.