The Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading celebrates its 20th year with a roster of more than 40 authors. They will all be talking about and signing their books — books that will inform you, enlighten you, mystify you, break your heart, make you laugh and keep you turning pages (or swiping through the screens on your e-reader).
The free festival will take place Oct. 20 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. It will also include a Tampa event this year, presenting two festival authors, Dennis Lehane and Michael Koryta, on Oct. 22 at Four Green Fields.
One of the finest writers of crime fiction today, Lehane will discuss his new novel, Live by Night, at both events. Most of his books — Mystic River, Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone and others — have been set in the Boston area. This time, he sets a riveting, resonant story of Prohibition-era gangsters in Ybor City and Havana as well as Boston.
With the festival taking place just weeks before the 2012 election, several featured books delve into hot-button political issues. Time magazine national correspondent Michael Grunwald has written a deeply researched and surprising account of the $800 billion stimulus bill in The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. Tampa Bay Times TV/media critic Eric Deggans will talk about his first book, Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation — a subject sure to kindle conversation. Times columnists Ernest Hooper and Daniel Ruth will be on hand to talk about a variety of issues. A former Times staffer, Saundra Amrhein, will present her book, Green Card Stories, a collection of the experiences of immigrants.
If, on the other hand, you'd rather read about something other than current politics, several outstanding authors of literary fiction will be on hand. Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler ventures into thriller territory with his new book, The Hot Country, about an American reporter covering the civil war in Mexico in 1914. Intrepid experimentalist Padgett Powell pares story down to its funny, poignant core in You & Me.
Two prize-winning fiction writers based in Tampa have new books. Enid Shomer's first novel, The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, vividly imagines a friendship between Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert during an Egyptian cruise. Little Sinners by Karen Brown is a collection of stories about the ghosts that haunt suburban landscapes.
Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is Jonathan Evison's tale of a broken man who finds his way back to life — a tale that, against the odds, is laugh-out-loud funny. (See review, Page 8L.) Tampa Bay area native John Brandon's novel A Million Heavens is about lost souls as well — the conjunction of a comatose child, a tormented angel, a wolf and a lonely girl.
If crime and punishment are your subjects of choice, three bestselling crime fiction authors will be speaking. Alafair Burke's Never Tell takes an unflinching look at how badly a rich girl's life can go wrong. Koryta's The Prophet is the tense story of two brothers, a football coach and a bail bondsman, who have never really recovered from the murder of their sister years ago. Lisa Unger's Heartbroken brings together three women under threat on a remote island, from outside forces and their own secrets.
Two authors will present powerful books of true crime. One is an insider: Ken Perenyi will talk about his memoir Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an Art Forger. Tampa Bay Times staff writer Craig Pittman will talk about his gripping book, The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal and the World's Most Beautiful Orchid.
Several festival authors take on women's issues in fiction or nonfiction. Rhoda Janzen follows up her bestselling memoir Mennonite in a Little Black Dress with Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? It's her witty story of finding both unexpected romance and unexpected religion. Tracy Crow's memoir, Eyes Right: Confessions of a Woman Marine, recounts her military triumphs and trials. Amy Hill Hearth's Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society is a comic but pointed novel of 1960s-era Florida. Kris Radish's female characters meet in anger management therapy in her novel Tuesday Night Miracles.
As always, the festival will feature several books related to Florida and the South. Janis Owen's harrowing novel American Ghost, set amid the dark secrets of small-town life in Florida's Panhandle, is based on a real-life lynching in Marianna.
William McKeen's Homegrown in Florida gathers real-life stories of growing up in the Sunshine State from such luminaries as Michael Connelly, Tim Dorsey, Carl Hiaasen and Tom Petty. Bob Kealing's Calling Me Home: Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock is a biography of one of Florida's most original and influential musicians. In Key West on the Edge: Inventing the Conch Republic, Robert Kerstein looks at the tiny island's outsized place in history. Former Tampa Bay Times writer Andrew Skerritt's Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South investigates the tragic interplay of race and AIDS.
Florida's food will get plenty of attention at the festival. Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand and Heather McPherson will talk about their new cookbook, Field to Feast: Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs and Artisans. For a slice of culinary history, catch Terry Fortner with Caladesi Cookbook: Recipes From a Florida Lifetime, 1895-1992, based on her grandmother's life.
Advice on writing will come from Roy Peter Clark with Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces. Jill Geisler has wisdom for managers in Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know. And, combining the practical and the poetic, Peter Meinke will talk about his book The Shape of Poetry: A Practical Guide to Writing and Reading Poems. Poet Melanie Hubbard will present We Have With Us Your Sky.
In the coming weeks, reviews of featured books and interviews with festival authors will appear on these pages. On Oct. 14, there will be a festival preview in Latitudes, and on Oct. 18, the festival program will appear in Weekend. Go to festivalofreading.com for author biographies and more information.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435.
Featured authors in St. Petersburg
Saundra Amrhein, Green Card Stories
John Brandon, A Million Heavens
Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand and Heather McPherson, Field to Feast: Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs and Artisans
Karen Brown, Little Sinners
Alafair Burke, Never Tell
Robert Olen Butler, The Hot Country
Roy Peter Clark, Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces
Tracy Crow, Eyes Right: Confessions From a Woman Marine
Eric Deggans, Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation
Jonathan Evison, Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
Terry Catherine Fortner, Caladesi Cookbook: Recipes From a Florida Lifetime, 1895-1992
Jill Geisler, Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know
Michael Grunwald, The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era.
Amy Hill Hearth, Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society
Ernest Hooper, Times columnist
Melanie Hubbard, We Have With Us Your Sky
Rhoda Janzen, Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?
Carolyn Ross Johnston, My Father's War: Fighting With the Buffalo Soldiers in World War II
Bob Kealing: Calling Me Home: Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock
Robert Kerstein, Key West on the Edge: Inventing the Conch Republic
Michael Koryta, The Prophet
Dennis Lehane, Live by Night
William McKeen, Homegrown in Florida
Peter Meinke, The Shape of Poetry: A Practical Guide to Writing and Reading Poems
Jim Melvin, Forged in Death
Janis Owens, American Ghost
Ken Perenyi, Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger
Craig Pittman, The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal and the World's Most Beautiful Orchid
Padgett Powell, You & Me
Kris Radish, Tuesday Night Miracles
Daniel Ruth, Times columnist
Eliot Schrefer, Endangered
Enid Shomer, The Twelve Rooms of the Nile
Andew Skerritt, Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South
Lisa Unger, Heartbroken