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Reveling in reading

Books and authors take center stage Sunday at the Times Festival of Reading at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. The festival, in its fifth year, runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

C-SPAN's Brian Lamb, author of Booknotes: America's Finest Authors on Reading, Writing and the Power of Ideas, will be the first speaker of the day. Lamb will be joined by dozens of other authors giving talks, including two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists (Jimmy Breslin and Rick Bragg), a television talk show host (Deborah Norville), a financial guru (Jane Bryant Quinn), an astrologist to the stars (Albert Clayton Gaulden) and an American Express executive turned novelist (Gwendolyn Parker).

Just in time for the holidays, Richard Paul Evans of The Christmas Box fame and Jerry Bledsoe will discuss their latest Christmas-inspired books. Artist P. Buckley Moss will sign copies of a biography written about her by Peter Rippe: Painting the Joys of the Soul.

Other authors scheduled to give talks include mystery writers E.C. Ayres and Frank Strunk, Blackboard bestseller Eric Jermone Dickey, National Public Radio commentator Bob Garfield, columnist Nat Hentoff, Florida novelist Carl Hiaasen, gay activist Andrew Sullivan, Boulevard editor Richard Burgin, biographer Burton Hersh, professional complainer Wilber Winkle, and Alecia Swasy and Mike Wilson, Times staffers who have written business books.

The festival will include more than 70 bookseller booths, a banned books marathon, a panel on how to get published and three outdoor entertainment stages featuring theater, music and poetry.

Actors from the Venue Theatre in St. Petersburg will portray George Sand, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe and other "Famous Dead Authors." A special panel called Read Florida, moderated by University of South Florida professor Gary Mormino, will present four authors who have written about a Florida even some natives never see: Al Burt, Bruce Hunt, Jeff Klinkenberg and Phillip Manning.

A special tribute to James Michener will be given by Sterling Watson, head of Eckerd's creative writing program, who taught with the late writer at Eckerd. Steve Rubin will read from his anthology of Jewish poetry; Janis Owens, Albert Howard Carter III and Nancy Jean Sanborn will give readings of their works.

Admission and parking are free.

Children's activities at the fair have been expanded this year. Creative writing workshops and bookmaking sessions will be held throughout the day. Children can also make bookmarks, book covers, and flowers and insects from Miss Spider's Wedding. Other highlights for the kids include:

+ Sibley Fleming: The author of the picture book How to Rock Your Baby will read and sign.

+ Charlotte's Web. The American Stage will present its production of the children's classic.

+ Storybook Character Parade: Wild Thing, Lilly, Bunnicula, Miss Spider, Peter Rabbit, Miss Frizzle, Waldo and other characters from popular children's literature will parade from the StoryLand area at 1:30 p.m.

+ Beatrix Potter (portrayed by Travis Sherman) will read some of Peter Rabbit's tales and talk about her life.

+ Free books! The first 5,000 children 12 and younger can choose a book as well as a Marvel comic. Children must be accompanied by an adult.