A novelist whose book won raves from Oprah and Obama, the scholar who brought Zora Neale Hurston’s long-lost interview with a former slave to print, two Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction writers, a bestselling satirical novelist, a beloved memoirist and fiction writer, a historian who has written a biography of a sports star and civil rights activist, a children’s author and National Book Award finalist with a gritty graphic novel — those are just a few of the more than 40 authors who will be on hand for the 26th annual Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading.
The free festival is Nov. 17 on the campus of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Tayari Jones will talk about An American Marriage, her bestselling and widely praised novel about a newlywed couple struggling to deal with the husband’s wrongful imprisonment. The book was named Oprah’s 2018 book club pick in February, and in August was one of the five books on former President Barack Obama’s summer reading list.
In 1927, novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston interviewed an 86-year-old man called Cudjo Lewis, one of the last known survivors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Her book about him was finally published this year, edited by Deborah Plant, and rose to the bestseller lists. Plant will talk about Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" at the festival.
Two Pulitzer Prize-winning writers of nonfiction return to the festival. Gilbert King won for general nonfiction in 2013 for Devil in the Grove; his new book, also a riveting true crime story set in Florida’s Lake County, is Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found.
University of Florida professor Jack E. Davis won the 2018 Pulitzer for history for his sweeping and elegantly written The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, which also won the Kirkus Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award. If you missed him last year, he’ll present the book at the festival again.
Gary Shteyngart, author of comic novels like Super Sad True Love Story and a writer for the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine and other publications, presents Lake Success, a sharp satire of life in the Trump era and the moving story of a family dealing with a child’s disability.
Bestselling novelist and journalist Joyce Maynard brings her latest book, The Best of Us, a moving memoir about her second marriage, at age 59, and the death of her husband less than three years later.
USFSP historian Raymond Arsenault will talk about Arthur Ashe: A Life, his deeply researched biography of the tennis star, author and activist for civil rights and AIDS awareness.
David Small, a Caldecott Medal winner for his children’s books, will present his new graphic novel about adolescence, Home After Dark, a savage story in the vein of his National Book Award finalist Stitches.
With the festival taking place just days after the midterm elections, the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact team will take questions and talk about how the voting played out.
As always, the festival will have a murderers’ row of crime fiction writers. Two-time Edgar Award winner Lori Roy will talk about The Disappearing, her chilling novel based on the real-life abuses at the Florida School for Boys. Robert Olen Butler, Florida State University writing professor and Pulitzer winner for fiction, brings Paris in the Dark, the fourth book in his historical crime fiction series about reporter Christopher "Kit" Marlowe.
Ace Atkins, who has continued the late Robert B. Parker’s bestselling Spenser books, also writes his own engaging series about Mississippi Sheriff Quinn Colson; the newest is The Sinners. Michael Koryta returns to the festival with his intense and shocking mystery How It Happened. Festival favorite Lisa Unger will talk about her 16th psychological thriller, Under My Skin.
Other mystery writers include Jean Heller (Burning Rage), Jeffrey Hess (Tushhog), Cheryl Hollon (Shattered at Sea), Danny Lopez (The Last Breath), Gale Massey (The Girl From Blind River), Steph Post (Walk in the Fire) and James Swain (The King Tides). David Pedreira (Gunpowder Moon) and Rick Wilber (The Moe Berg Episodes: Alternate Histories of the Catcher and Spy) will discuss their novels, which combine science fiction and mystery.
Authors of literary fiction will include C. Morgan Babst, whose The Floating World is set in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and Vanessa Blakeslee, with her wide-ranging short story collection Perfect Conditions. Karen Brown’s novel The Clairvoyants is the story of two sisters with an unusual bond. Jon Chopan will present his short story collection, Veterans Crisis Hotline, which won the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction.
Melanie Hobson’s Summer Cannibals is the mordant tale of a wealthy family with many secrets; Ladee Hubbard’s The Talented Ribkins is about a Florida family with curious powers.
Steve Kistulentz’s debut novel, Panorama, focuses on an airplane crash and its aftermath, with a dash of politics; Eleanor Kriseman’s first novel, The Blurry Years, is about a girl growing up on the rough side of Florida. B.A. Shapiro tells the tale of a young woman in Paris in the 1920s who becomes enmeshed in the art world and its dark side in The Collector’s Apprentice.
Many nonfiction books at the festival focus on remarkable lives. Tom Clavin will present Valley Forge, the story of George Washington’s great military achievement. Bill DeYoung’s Phil Gernhard, Record Man is a biography of a St. Petersburg record producer who became a force in popular music.
Former Times columnist Jeff Klinkenberg offers tales from his own life and those of unique Floridians in Son of Real Florida: Stories From My Life. Another former Times staffer, Ben Montgomery, recounts the amazing life of a Depression-era Texan in The Man Who Walked Backward: An American Dreamer’s Search for Meaning in the Great Depression.
Other nonfiction books offer guidance of various kinds. Roy Peter Clark, author of the bestselling Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer and other how-to books for writers, will return. Kristen Hare will present a new edition of her book 100 Things to Do in Tampa Bay Before You Die. USFSP Cole Chair in Ethics professor Hugh La Follette will present his timely new book, In Defense of Gun Control.
There’s a strong lineup this year of authors who write for young readers. Fox 13 reporter and anchor Sorboni Banerjee will talk about her debut YA novel, Hide With Me. Another television reporter, Christian Blauvelt of BBC America, returns to the festival with two Star Wars-themed books, Be More Yoda and Be More Vader.
Andre Frattino will talk about his graphic version of a beloved Florida book, Patrick Smith’s A Land Remembered. Lauren Gibaldi, another festival veteran, has a YA novel about a Florida teen, This Tiny Perfect World. Fred Koehler’s Garbage Island is a middle-grade book about a mouse and shrew lost at sea.
G. Neri, award-winning author for young readers, comes to the festival in person this year. (Last year he Skyped in from Antarctica.) His latest book, based on a true story, is Grand Theft Horse.
A festival founding spirit, Florida poet laureate Peter Meinke, will be on hand with his wife, illustrator Jeanne Meinke, with their latest collaboration, Tasting Like Gravity.
Erica Dawson, director of the University of Tampa MFA program, will present her new poetry collection, When Rap Spoke Straight to God. Tyler Gillespie finds poetry in all those crazy viral stories in Florida Man: Poems. Poet and fiction writer Enid Shomer will talk about a new anthology that she edited, All We Know of Pleasure: Poetic Erotica by Women.
The Times critics will be on hand at the festival to talk about what they do: book critic Colette Bancroft, pop music/culture critic Jay Cridlin, performing arts critic Andrew Meacham and restaurant critic Laura Reiley.
Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.