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Piper Castillo, Times Staff Writer

Piper Castillo

Piper Castillo grew up in Ft. Lauderdale and received her English degree from Florida Atlantic University. As a community news reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, she covers north Pinellas County. She also writes the "Nightstand" column for the Sunday book pages and thinks the only thing better than a good read is a day in the sun with her family.

Phone: (727) 445-4163


  1. Here's what 'Frozen' and Broadway star Idina Menzel is reading these days



    Idina Menzel

    Menzel is known to some as the green-skinned Elphaba from Wicked. Other fans go farther back and think of her as Maureen from Rent, while her youngest fans recognize her as the voice of magical Elsa in the Disney movie Frozen. When we caught up with the Tony-winning performer by phone recently, she told us she's bringing it all when she makes her return stop at Ruth Eckerd Hall on May 25. (Her last visit was in 2015.) "I always find it challenging to create new shows,'' she said. "I want to strike a balance, so it runs the gamut. There's going to be emotional songs and some real pop and rock stuff too. Oh, and I play the drums at times, too,'' she said. Menzel, whose solo albums include Still I Can't Be Still, Here, I Stand, and idina, is also the co-founder of A BroaderWay Foundation, focused on girls in underserved communities as an outlet for self-expression and creativity through arts-centered programs....

    Idina Menzel
  2. Review: X brings Exene Cervenka home to relive punk history at St. Petersburg's State Theatre


    The crowd at Sunday’s X concert at the State Theatre obeyed the “no moshing” signs at the entrance. Instead, they made do by dancing and head-banging elbow to elbow.

    On Mother’s Day, one of the founding mothers of punk, Exene Cervenka, joined three other original band members of X — rockabilly punk icon John Doe, drummer D.J. Bonebrake and guitarist Billy Zoom — for a 90-minute show, part of a 40th anniversary tour....

    X performed at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg on May 14, 2017.
  3. What's Jane Alexander reading?



    Jane Alexander

    Alexander, 77, is recognized for performances in movies (Kramer vs. Kramer), on the stage (Shadowlands) and on television (The Blacklist). She also is a lifelong environmentalist who last fall released Wild Things, Wild Places: Adventurous Tales of Wildlife and Conservation on Planet Earth, a book on the work being done by scientists around the globe. We recently caught up with Alexander by phone from her home in Nova Scotia and talked books, Mother's Day and creating a worldwide patchwork quilt of sorts. "Mother Earth gives us everything we need in this world to thrive if we take care of her; water gives us life, air gives us breath and soil gives us growth. We haven't treated our bountiful Mother with respect,'' she said. "If each of us protects our own patch where we live by maintaining clean water, air and soil for all the creatures that call it home, including ourselves, that is our patchwork.''...

    Jane Alexander released “Wild Things, Wild Places: Adventurous Tales of Wildlife and Conservation on Planet Earth” last fall.
  4. A mother and teenage daughter head to Atlanta



    A quick mother-daughter road trip filled me with an excitement I haven't felt since Sofia was in kindergarten, when I was the mastermind of her adventures.

    Sofia, 14, is an extrovert with a passion for socializing so strong that, if she could, she would keep it up via smartphone 24/7. However, to be honest, I felt a certain challenge needed to be dealt with head-on before we started the trip to Atlanta. It has to do with, well, repeat previous sentence....

    The crypt of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, is located across the street from the visitors center for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.
[Piper Castillo   |   Times]
  5. A fixture for 60 years, the Safety Harbor Post Office will relocate


    SAFETY HARBOR — It opened when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, and Elvis Presley was at the top of charts. Since 1956, the post office at 303 Main St. has not only been a reliable spot to mail and receive letters and packages, but friends, like Jerry Smith and Tina MacIntyre often use it as a meeting spot, huddling on the outside bench before taking walks to the waterfront or grabbing a coffee at the nearby Starbucks....

    The Safety Harbor Post Office, 303 Main St., in downtown Safety Harbor, plans to move.
  6. Review: Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals bring intense musicianship to Jannus Live in St. Petersburg


    He’s the man in the hat, the man with countless guitars. He’s an outspoken worker for social justice and a chameleon who moves between reggae, hard rock, funk and gospel.

    He’s Ben Harper, and he brought his band the Innocent Criminals to Jannus Live on Tuesday.

    For two hours, he and his bandmates, who reunited last year with the album Call It What It Is, had fans holding a continuous sing-along of praise. It didn’t stop, even when Harper himself did during an instrumental on one of his lap guitars midway through. As he played Strut, his slippery fingers got the best of him (that’s Florida humidity, Ben; not your fault) He suddenly looked up, perhaps cursed and began again....

    Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals performed at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg on May 2, 2017.
  7. With new director in place, Florida Botanical Gardens hopes to rise to 'the next level'


    LARGO — The Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation has hired its first-ever executive director, Vernon Bryant, a former horticulture manager for Pinellas County Parks who was part of the team that helped create the Botanical Gardens almost 20 years ago.

    Foundation board president Terry Berube said Bryant, who holds a bachelor's degree in botany from Eastern Illinois University and a master's in horticulture from Iowa State, can "take the Botanical Gardens to the next level.''...

    Vernon Bryant stands in the butterfly garden at Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo, where he recently became the new executive director. Bryant has been laying the ground work for future projects and preparing for the foundation's second annual "Beyond the Garden Gates: A Tour of Private and Public Gardens'' from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  8. What's Sasha Abramsky reading?



    Sasha Abramsky

    Abramsky has two upcoming appearances in the Tampa Bay area, one on Saturday (see Book Talk) and one on April 30 as part of the Leif Nissen Social Justice Lecture Series at Temple Beth-El of St. Petersburg ( His books include The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives and his most recent, The House of Twenty Thousand Books, a memoir centered around his grandfather, a bibliophile with a massive collection of socialist literature and Jewish history. Recently, we caught up with Abramsky by phone. When asked to discuss the presidency of Donald Trump, the London-born journalist said: "As far as electoral damage, it is the worst thing to happen in this country's history. I'm not saying it is the worst thing to ever happen, because the Civil War was horrific. If we survive the Trump years we will be living with his legacy for a long time. When you unleash demagoguery, very bad things tend to happen.''...

    Sasha Abramsky
  9. New disc golf course coming to Oldsmar this summer

    Local Government

    OLDSMAR — If you've wandered through Sheffield Park lately, along with seeing the usual walkers, runners, dogs and happy kids on the playground, you might have noticed some new "holes.''

    Oldsmar is installing a city golf course.

    But leave your irons and golf balls at home. What you will need instead are colorful flying discs, a good aim and a sturdy arm. By early summer, Sheffield Park will be home to an 18-hole disc golf course....

    The new disc golf course in Sheffield Park will start near the park’s main entrance on Cuttybay Court. At 8,500 feet long, it will be among the longest disc golf courses in the area. The Sheffield Park course will have its grand opening this summer.
  10. What's Helen Pruitt Wallace reading?



    Helen Pruitt Wallace

    It's National Poetry Month and time to catch up with the poet laureate of St. Petersburg, Helen Pruitt Wallace. Wallace, who took over the role from Peter Meinke (now the Florida poet laureate) in 2016, has taught creative writing at Eckerd College for more than a decade. She also serves as host for the Poetry at the Dalí program. Among the honors she has received are the Richard Snyder Prize for Poetry, for her book Shimming the Glass House. Wallace will be one of the readers at City of Poets on April 19....

    Helen Pruitt Wallace is poet laureate of St. Petersburg.
  11. Epilogue: Bruce Fyfe, benefactor of Morton Plant Hospital and homeless project


    Bruce Fyfe, a partner with the financial services firm ProVise Management Group based in Clearwater, was an advocate for the needy who dedicated his time to several nonprofits, including stints as chairman of the board of directors for the Homeless Empowerment Program in Clearwater and the Morton Plant Mease Health Care Foundation.

    At 66, the Sunday school teacher at Everybody's Tabernacle was loved by many and known as a great leader and orator in his faith community and in the business world. ...

    Bruce Fyfe was especially devoted to helping veterans.
  12. What's Daron K. Roberts reading?



    Daron K. Roberts

    About two weeks ago, Daron K. Roberts, author of Call an Audible: Let My Pivot from Harvard Law to NFL Coach Inspire Your Transition, paid a visit to St. Petersburg. Admiral Farragut teacher Heather Ewing was looking for someone to speak to students, and after seeing him on ESPN, she thought Roberts, the founding director of the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation at the University of Texas, fit the bill. So what did he think of St. Petersburg and his day speaking to about 280 upper school students? "I was impressed with their demeanor and approach to life,'' he said....

    Daron Roberts, author of “Call an Audible: Let My Pivot from Harvard Law to NFL Coach Inspire Your Transition,” recently visited St. Petersburg.
  13. St. Petersburg College, Clearwater High right at home in historic Jack Russell Stadium

    Human Interest

    CLEARWATER — The Rolling Stones were only four songs in when they were arrested at Jack Russell Memorial Stadium in 1965. They, along with 3,000 teenagers throwing toilet paper at each other, were disturbing the peace in the North Greenwood neighborhood. The story goes that Keith Richards went back to the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel (now the Fort Harrison) and in the early morning hours woke up with the opening for what would become the British rock group's first No. 1 hit in the United States, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction....

    St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith leaps over Philadelphia Phillies base runner Mike Schmidt to turn a double play in 1988.
  14. What's Herb Karl reading?



    Herb Karl

    Karl is an emeritus faculty member of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. The seed for his new book, Insurrectionist, was planted years ago when he was a graduate student at Florida State, where one of his writing teachers was Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Shaara. "He got me hooked on the antebellum period of American history,'' said Karl, 78. "I even read his Killer Angels in manuscript form. He breathed life into characters that were prominent in that period.'' Insurrectionist, a historical novel, takes a look at the life of militant abolitionist John Brown, his motives that led to the invasion at Harper's Ferry as well as his relationships, including his friendship with Frederick Douglass. Karl and his wife, Lucy, divide their time between St. Petersburg and western North Carolina. ...

    Herb Karl is an emeritus faculty member of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
  15. Want to learn more about Tarpon Springs' Greektown district? Now there's an app for that

    Human Interest


    The connections to Greece are everywhere. You can spot them as you watch workers fill wooden tubs with sponges outside the tourist shops on Dodecanese Boulevard. You can smell them as the scent of fresh Greek pastries floats down the sidewalk on Athens Street. You can hear them as you stand next to the Anclote River, listening to the waves knock against the hulls of the old wooden sponge boats....

    Visitors tour the Shrine of St. Michael on Hope Street a few blocks from the Sponge Docks. The Greek Orthodox landmark is part of the mile-long tour on the app.