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Paul Wilborn takes a gold medal in Florida Book Awards

Tampa Bay area writers Joy Sheffield Harris, Rob Sanders and Craig N. Huegel also are winners.
Paul Wilborn's debut short story collection, "Cigar City," has won the 2019 gold medal from the Florida Book Awards.
Paul Wilborn's debut short story collection, "Cigar City," has won the 2019 gold medal from the Florida Book Awards. [ Tampa Bay Times (2019) ]
Published Mar. 5, 2020
Updated Mar. 5, 2020

Paul Wilborn is not playing it cool about winning the gold medal for fiction from the Florida Book Awards.

“I’m shocked, I’m happy, I’m ecstatic,” he said. “I’m tired from jumping up and down.”

Wilborn won the award for Cigar City: Tales From a 1980s Creative Ghetto. The short story collection, much of it set in Ybor City and illustrated with photos by Tampa photographer David Audet, is Tampa native Wilborn’s first book.

He was a journalist for years, at the Tampa Tribune, the then-St. Petersburg Times and other publications. “Nonfiction, I know I can do that. People paid me for it," he said. "But fiction was scary for me.”

He worked on the book for two years while busy with his job as executive director of the Palladium in downtown St. Petersburg and his side gig as a musician, often performing with his wife, actor Eugenie Bondurant.

Related: In 'Cigar City,' Paul Wilborn brings Ybor City in the '80s back to life

Since Cigar City was published by the small St. Petersburg Press in 2019, he said, he’s done about 15 readings to enthusiastic audiences around the Tampa Bay area. “Now it looks like we’ll have a whole other round, breaking the book out across the state.”

Wilborn calls the award “a real validation.”

“People have responded strongly to the stories, and to the era.”

Other local authors who received awards are Joy Sheffield Harris, who took the gold medal in the cooking category for The Florida Cracker Cookbook; Rob Sanders of Brandon, who won silver in younger children’s literature for Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution.; and Craig N. Huegel of Holiday, whose The Nature of Plants: An Introduction to How Plants Work took the bronze in general nonfiction.

Related: Brandon author Rob Sanders talks about 'Stonewall,' his picture-book history for children

More than 175 books published in 2019 were submitted across the 11 categories of competition for the Florida Book Awards, coordinated by the Florida State University Libraries. Judges can award up to three winners in each category.

The awards were established in 2006 to celebrate the best Florida literature. Authors must be full-time Florida residents, except in the Florida nonfiction and visual arts categories, where the subject matter must focus on Florida.

Awards will be presented to all winners at a banquet in Tallahassee in April. Here are the 2019 winners:

Younger children’s literature: Sophia Gholz, The Boy Who Grew a Forest (gold); Rob Sanders, Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution. (silver); Marsha Diane Arnold, Badger’s Perfect Garden (bronze)

Older children’s literature: Ryan Calejo, Charlie Hernandez and the Castle of Bones (gold); Eileen Meyer, The Superlative A. Lincoln (silver); Marta Magellan, Amazing, Misunderstood (bronze)

Florida nonfiction: Victor Andres Triay, The Mariel Boatlift: A Cuban-American Journey (gold); David J. Nelson, How the New Deal Built Florida Tourism: The Civilian Conservation Corps and State Parks (silver); John M. Dunn, Drying Up: The Fresh Water Crisis in Florida (bronze)

General fiction: Paul Wilborn, Cigar City (gold)

Related: Jaquira Diaz takes a searing look at girlhood in memoir 'Ordinary Girls'

General nonfiction: Jaquira Díaz, Ordinary Girls (gold); Larry Loftis, Code Name: Lise (silver); Craig N. Huegel, The Nature of Plants: An Introduction to How Plants Work (bronze)

Poetry: Maureen Seaton, Sweet World (gold); Campbell McGrath, Nouns & Verbs: New and Selected Poems (silver); Tanya Grae, Undoll (bronze)

Popular fiction: Robert N. Macomber, Honoring the Enemy: A Captain Peter Wake Novel (gold); Ward Larsen, Assassin’s Revenge (silver); Micah Dean Hicks, Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones (bronze)

Spanish language: Daína Chaviano, Los Hijos de la Diosa Huracán (gold); Lizette Espinosa, Humo (silver)

Young adult: Trish Doller, Start Here (gold)

Cooking: Joy Sheffield Harris, The Florida Cracker Cookbook (gold)

Nominate a St. Petersburg writer for the Roy Peter Clark Award

In other award news, the fledgling St. Petersburg Press has announced that nominations are open for its first Roy Peter Clark Award.

The new award will recognize outstanding contributions to the literary culture of St. Petersburg. Clark, its namesake, is a longtime St. Petersburg resident, teacher, writing coach and senior scholar emeritus at the Poynter Institute, which owns the Tampa Bay Times. He is the author or editor of 19 books, including the bestseller Writing Tools and his most recent book, Murder Your Darlings: And Other Gentle Writing Advice From Aristotle to Zinsser.

Related: Roy Peter Clark offers pro tips from 'Murder Your Darlings'

Nominations are open through April 10 for any published writer, bookseller, educator or other literary activist who lives, at least part time, in the St. Petersburg area. The winner and two finalists will be announced at the kickoff ceremony of the SunLit Festival on April 24.

To nominate someone (or yourself), go to