The Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading returns for its 29th year as a live virtual event the week of Nov. 8-14. Its small but mighty roster of bestselling and award-winning authors includes this year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, an Oprah’s Book Club author and a finalist for this year’s National Book Award.
All of the festival authors will be interviewed live via Zoom by Times book editor Colette Bancroft, with a Q&A with questions from viewers. Six of the seven events are free, with registration to receive a link. One event is a ticketed fundraiser for the festival. Register for the free talks, buy a ticket or purchase festival authors’ books at festivalofreading.com.
Book sales will be handled by two local independent bookstores, Tombolo Books in St. Petersburg and the Bookstore at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa. Both will have some autographed copies of festival books available.
The festival kicks off at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 with an interview with acclaimed fiction writer Lauren Groff. Groff, who lives in Gainesville, is the author of six books, including the stunning short story collection Florida and the novel Fates and Furies. Her new novel, Matrix, was published in September and is a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for fiction. Matrix is a historical novel, a surprising and enthralling story based on the life of a real woman, Marie de France, who in the 12th century left the French court to become a nun and lead an isolated abbey.
Festival favorite and part-time Tampa resident Michael Connelly will return to launch his gripping new novel, The Dark Hours, at 7 p.m. Nov. 9. Connelly is the bestselling author of 36 novels and one work of nonfiction, with more than 80 million copies of his books sold worldwide. His series of novels about iconic Los Angeles Police Detective Harry Bosch is the source of the hit Amazon series Bosch, for which Connelly was a writer and executive producer. Two more TV series based on his books, The Lincoln Lawyer and an untitled Bosch sequel, are on the way. The Dark Hours teams Bosch, now retired, with LAPD Detective Renée Ballard in an unflinching look at policing in the post-George Floyd era.
At 7 p.m. Nov. 10, Honorée Fannone Jeffers will talk about her debut novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois. Jeffers is well known and much awarded as a poet, but her novel has taken off like a rocket. Published in August, it has been named an Oprah’s Book Club novel and long-listed for the 2021 National Book Award for fiction. In vibrant prose, it tells the complex and moving story of a Black family across several centuries, focusing on one contemporary young woman, Ailey Garfield, but bringing in a chorus of often unexpected voices.
At 7 p.m. Nov. 11, two of the festival’s stalwarts, Ace Atkins and Lisa Unger, return for their annual Books and Bourbon appearance. Atkins, a former reporter for the then-St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune and an SEC football player, is the author of 11 bestselling crime novels about Mississippi Sheriff Quinn Colson. Atkins also continued Robert B. Parker’s iconic Spenser character after Parker’s death in 2010, adding eight bestselling novels in that series. Atkins’ latest novel, The Heathens, was inspired by a Tampa Bay area murder case. Unger, who lives on the Pinellas beaches, is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author. With 19 books published in 30 languages and millions of copies sold worldwide, she is widely regarded as a master of suspense. Her new psychological thriller, Last Girl Ghosted, was published in October, and its frightening story might make you think twice about dating apps.
At 2 p.m. Nov. 12, the festival welcomes two of Florida’s most acclaimed environmental journalists in conversation. Cynthia Barnett, who teaches journalism at the University of Florida, will be talking about her fourth nonfiction book, the amazing The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans. Joining her will be Craig Pittman, a former award-winning Tampa Bay Times reporter, to talk about his sixth book, The State You’re In: Florida Men, Florida Women, and Other Wildlife, a fascinating and often hilarious anthology of 51 of his articles from the 1990s to the present.
At 2 p.m. Nov. 13, Scott Carson joins the festival, although you might have seen him at previous festivals under his real name, Michael Koryta. Carson is the nom de plume Koryta began using with his last book, The Chill, a haunting horror novel, to distinguish it from his 14 books of crime fiction. One of those thrillers, Those Who Wish Me Dead, was made into a movie, starring Angelina Jolie, that was released this year. Koryta’s (or rather Carson’s) latest book, Where They Wait, is a creepy horror novel about a laid-off journalist who is hired to profile a man who has developed an app that shapes dreams.
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The festival’s grand finale will be a conversation with Louise Erdrich, this year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel The Night Watchman. She’ll be talking about her new book, The Sentence, which will be published Nov. 9. Set in Minneapolis in 2020, amid the pandemic and the protests after the murder of George Floyd, it’s a timely and stunning look at a complex marriage as well as a wickedly funny ghost story.
Erdrich’s talk, at 4 p.m. Nov. 14, is the festival’s only ticketed event. Tickets are $50 and include a copy of The Sentence and admission to the live virtual interview with the author. Proceeds benefit the festival and the Times Journalism Fund. Tickets are available at festivalofreading.com.