Paul Wilborn lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, actor Eugenie Bondurant, and has a great day job as executive director of the Palladium, owned by St. Petersburg College. However, Wilborn grew up on the other side of the bay. A Florida native whose Tampa roots go back generations, Wilborn has written a collection of short stories highlighting his hometown’s most storied neighborhood, Ybor City. Cigar City: Tales From a 1980s Creative Ghetto is fiction yet perhaps not too far from the truths the former Tampa Bay Times journalist experienced himself about 35 years ago. Wilborn, a founding member of the Artists and Writers Group responsible for the creation of the Artists and Writers balls and the wacky night parade known as the Mama Guava Stumble, said that writing the book took him back to an enchanted time. “There will always be a little bit of magic in Ybor, but really your life is magic when you are 23 or 24 or 25, and I got to go back to that. Ybor was the most romantic and crazy world.’’ Wilborn will be a featured author at the 2019 Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading on Nov. 9.
What’s on your nightstand?
I love short stories. I am reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ Fresh Complaints. I’m also reading Lauren Groff’s Florida, a great collection, and believe it or not, I’m reading Anton Chekhov, The Complete Short Stories. Chekhov invented the short story in some ways. I also just finished Tommy Orange’s There There. It’s a great book, really a collection of short stories posing as a novel. Each story stands alone. I’ve also broken out some Elmore Leonard.
What Elmore Leonard are you reading?
I have Get Shorty and some others. I like his humor and dialogue. I also have Intimate Nights by James Gavin. It’s nonfiction going into great detail about the New York nightclub scene in the 1950s. It’s very Mrs. Maisel-ish. And then I have a biography on Barton Mumaw, Dancer (by Jane Sherman). He was an internationally recognized dancer, around for the founding of the dance mecca Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires. He spent the last part of his career in St. Petersburg working with dancers and choreographers here.
I don’t want to put you in a box, but do you have a favorite story in your collection?
I loved writing all the stories, but the ones I find I’m reading from (at events) are The Apprentice, Ground Zero — one of the characters in that one has a lot of me in him — and Almost Happy, but it is sad.
Do you have another writing project you are working on?
It’s a novel also set in the ‘80s, in South Florida, Palm Beach County, the Everglades. One of the things that drives the book is the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.